We’re pleased to announce a new report, “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape” undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge, the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency and the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam.
The report offers an unprecedented empirical mapping and analysis of the emerging issue of open budget data, which has appeared as ideals from the open data movement have begun to gain traction amongst advocates and practitioners of financial transparency.
In the report we chart the definitions, best practices, actors, issues and initiatives associated with the emerging issue of open budget data in different forms of digital media.
In doing so, our objective is to enable practitioners – in particular civil society organisations, intergovernmental organisations, governments, multilaterals and funders – to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it.
How public money is collected and distributed is one of the most pressing political questions of our time, influencing the health, well-being and prospects of billions of people. Decisions about fiscal policy affect everyone-determining everything from the resourcing of essential public services, to the capacity of public institutions to take action on global challenges such as poverty, inequality or climate change.
Digital technologies have the potential to transform the way that information about public money is organised, circulated and utilised in society, which in turn could shape the character of public debate, democratic engagement, governmental accountability and public participation in decision-making about public funds. Data could play a vital role in tackling the democratic deficit in fiscal policy and in supporting better outcomes for citizens.
The report includes the following recommendations:
CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should undertake further work to identify, engage with and map the interests of a broader range of civil society actors whose work might benefit from open fiscal data, in order to inform data release priorities and data standards work. Stronger feedback loops should be established between the contexts of data production and its various contexts of usage in civil society – particularly in journalism and in advocacy.
Governments, IGOs and funders should support pilot projects undertaken by CSOs and/or media organisations in order to further explore the role of data in the democratisation of fiscal policy – especially in relation to areas which appear to have been comparatively under-explored in this field, such as tax distribution and tax base erosion, or tracking money through from revenues to results.
Governments should work to make data “citizen readable” as well as “machine readable”, and should take steps to ensure that information about flows of public money and the institutional processes around them are accessible to non-specialist audiences – including through documentation, media, events and guidance materials. This is a critical step towards the greater democratisation and accountability of fiscal policy.
Further research should be undertaken to explore the potential implications and impacts of opening up information about public finance which is currently not routinely disclosed, such as more detailed data about tax revenues – as well as measures needed to protect the personal privacy of individuals.
CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should work together to promote and adopt consistent definitions of open budget data, open spending data and open fiscal data in order to establish the legal and technical openness of public information about public money as a global norm in financial transparency.
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.