A few weeks back, we launched a new global “Follow the Money” network of organisations pushing for the transparency needed to enable citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. We hope that the network will help organisations working on this agenda to share information about what they’re doing, to develop a shared vision and principles around transparency and open data, and to spot opportunities to collaborate and gaps that need to be filled.
To share experience and inform the development of the network, we also organised a “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, particularly focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.
After introductions from ONE, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the World Bank’s Robert Hunja (who chaired the session), Seember Nyager from the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria spoke about the centre’s work on procurement monitoring. She said while there are laws and tools in place to enable citizens to monitor and report problems with public procurement, these are currently underused and further work is needed to build the capacity of civil society to use them. She said the “Follow the Money” network could help to integrate transparency efforts around revenues, procurement and monitoring.
Justin Arenstein from the African Media Initiative presented a range of projects where citizens and journalists have followed the money to flag corruption and the misuse of public funds – from Azerbaijan to Ghana. He argued that transparency work in this area should be demand driven, outcomes based and citizen-focused, and that transparency campaigners should make sure to team up with, support and build on the work of investigative journalists.
Rocio Moreno from the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation spoke about how to make international work impactful at national level, and how to connect and build on national level work to create global momentum. She argued that the “Follow the Money” network needs to focus on how it can support civil society actors at national level.
Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network responded to the talks arguing that the “Follow the Money” was a good opportunity to enable better cooperation between fiscal transparency advocates and open data advocates. He contended that the volume of information about public money that we potentially have available to us means that campaigners can no longer pore over contracts one at a time, and we need new tools and techniques to follow the money effectively. Also more technical work on standards is needed to enable linking and comparability between different types of data, so that citizens can follow the money from revenue to results.
Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT in Nigeria concurred that “Follow the Money” efforts should be driven by the needs of citizens, and should serve to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens so that governments listen and respond to them. He also suggested that “Follow the Money” network should have an institutional focus – working to identify, highlight and spread public policies which enable citizens to follow the money.
We also discussed possible next steps for the “Follow the Money” network with several of its members, which included: principles to ensure open data is a key requirement in fiscal transparency campaigning; work on data standards and interoperability; mapping activities to explain the different ways that public money flows from revenues to results; further work to highlight fiscal transparency needs of public interest campaigners; national and international campaigning and policy work; and investigations and projects to enable citizens to follow the money in different areas.
Overall our sessions and meetings at the Open Government Partnership confirmed that there was strong support and demand for the “Follow the Money” network as a way for advocates to share updates about what they are doing, and to work together more effectively around common goals. We hope that it will contribute towards building a stronger and better connected global fiscal transparency movement. If you’d like to join us, please do head on over to followthemoney.net.
Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.