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The Benefits of Open Data – Evidence from Economic Research

- October 3, 2012 in Open Data, Open Economics, Public Finance and Government Data

This contribution is by Guo Xu (OKFN Economics and LSE) and the first part of the blog series “Mainstreaming Open Economics”.

Looking back to the Open Knowledge Festival 2012 in September, there’s an impression that openness is everywhere: There are working groups on Open Science and Open Linguistics, topic streams on Gender and Diversity in Openness, and events like Open Prom and Open Sauna: Open Knowledge and Open Data, it seems, is omnipresent.

Looking beyond the Open Knowledge community, however, the situation is very different: In Economics, for example, not many know what “open data”, “open access” or “Open Economics” exactly mean. Indeed, not many even care. A common reaction is: “Yes, it sounds interesting and important, but does it really matter? And why should I care about it?”

In this post, I would like to give some hard evidence on the positive role of opening up information has had in economics, and sketch ideas for how to involve economists – professional or in training – to mainstream ideas of openness. The blog post is divided into three parts: The first part looks at economic research on open data. The second part looks at the impact of open data on economic research. The third part discusses challenges and ways forward.

The real world impacts of open information

Making information accessible to the public can improve public service delivery. In countries where corruption is pervasive, services and funds often do not reach the frontline provider. And even if services do reach the people, the quality of services provided is often shockingly poor: Survey evidence from Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Peru and Uganda found absence rates as high as 20% and 35% for school teachers and health workers. In many cases, the staff is poorly trained.

Releasing data on service delivery in this case can help reduce corruption and improve public services. In Uganda, researchers provided information to parents by publishing funding data for a random subset of schools in local newspapers. In consequence, corruption decreased significantly, while schooling outcomes improved substantially. Similar evidence in health delivery and redistributive policies suggest that providing information can help the public to discipline public service providers, improving the quality of services.

Information can also expose corrupt politicians: The Federal Government of Brazil, for example, began to select and audit municipalities at random, releasing audit reports to the media. Researchers found that the audit outcomes had a significant impact on the reelection probability of politicians: Those exposed for corruption were punished at the ballots, and the impact was most pronounced in areas where the dissemination of information was favoured by local radio.

A story from fishermen in South India provides another example of how information can improve market efficiency: Studying the adoption of mobile phones in Kerala, researchers have found convincing evidence that access to information through mobile phones helped fishermen sell their catch at the market where the price was highest (and fish most demanded): Instead of sailing to a port and simply hoping for a good price, fishermen were empowered by technology to make informed decisions on how to trade.

Finally, the benefits of transparency are not only restricted to reducing corruption and lowering the cost of information: A comparative study finds that transparency – measured by accuracy and frequency of macroeconomic information released to the public – leads to lower borrowing costs in sovereign bond markets. Open data pays off in many ways – in many different contexts.

These are just a few selective examples on how cutting-edge economic research has identified the benefits of openness in a diverse range of situations. The cases I presented are not based on correlations, but carefully established causal relationships, leaving – at least within the context studied – little doubt that information matters – big time. Perhaps most importantly, these cases have also shown that open data must be understood in a broad sense: These interventions do not take advantage of linked data, do not use CSVs that are shared through Facebook or Twitter – often, these interventions are simple solutions that ultimately help improving the everyday lives of the people.

Technology for Transparent and Accountable Public Finance

- May 30, 2012 in Public Finance and Government Data, Publications

This post is also published at the OpenSpending blog.

In early March, we embarked on a project to map out projects which use [technology to further the aims of fiscal transparency, accountability and participation](http://openspending.org/blog/2012/03/12/technology-for-fiscal-transparency-where-next.html). Today, we are happy to announce the official release of the resulting report, Technology for Transparent and Accountable Public Finance. Preliminary findings were presented at last month’s [GIFT](http://fiscaltransparency.net/) meeting in Brasilia. Since then, we’ve been building on the comments, follow-up questions and feedback from the session.

Looking at government revenue, expenditure and off-budget information – we have attempted to identify projects from both governments and civil society which use innovative approaches to:

* Publish more or better data related to fiscal processes (aid, revenues, budgets, audits, etc. — see below),
* Help understand this data through the creation of better visualisation and data analysis tools,
* Educate citizens about fiscal processes, and assist civil society organisations promoting accountable governance,
* Facilitate direct participation in fiscal matters through participatory budgeting, citizen auditing and the like,
* Provide policymakers with complete and reliable data relevant to their work, enabling them to make better decisions.

We focussed in particular on the question: ‘Who are the users?’. We examined their motivations for getting involved, the scalability and applicability of given solutions to other contexts. The report also aims to highlight gaps that prevent users from taking up these tools.

### Report now available online

Today, the first edition of the report is published on [OpenSpending.org](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/index.html). It is also available for [download as a PDF](/resources/gift/pdf/ttapf_report_20120530.pdf). Accompanying the report is a [project database – bit.ly/TTAPF-projects ](https://bit.ly/TTAPF-projects) which contains many more projects that publish, analyse and demystify fiscal data.

The section on participatory budgeting deserves special mention. We discovered so many projects that they merited their own listing, which can be found [here](https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AvoV_cBqwo28dE9fZy02NEt2UGxPTnRQMTEzaUhTOGc#gid=4). As we go through, we are building up a catalog of government finance portals in [the ‘finance’ group of datacatalogs.org](http://datacatalogs.org/group/finance). There’s still a lot of work to be done there, but the group already contains the portals mentioned in the report.

As our work continues, we’d love to maintain these connections and hear updates from the projects and learn about new projects. If you have come across an interesting project and think we should feature it, [please let us know](mailto:[email protected])!

### Key Findings

We have tried to highlight specific roles which GIFT could play in promoting the good practice requirements of the report. The slides from the session can be found below:

Read about the highlights in context in the [Highlights, Gaps and Recommendations section](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter1-3.html)

### Read the report

See below for a quick overview of the contents:

* [Chapter 1 – Introduction and Methodology](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter1.html)
* [Chapter 2 – Publishing Fiscal Data: Government Perspectives](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter2-intro.html)
* [Chapter 3 – Using Fiscal Data: Civil Society Perspectives](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter3-intro.html)
* [Chapter 4 – Standards for Fiscal Data: Towards an international framework](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter4-intro.html)
* [Chapter 5 – Case Studies – Where Does the Money Come From?](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter5-intro.html)
* [Chapter 6 – Case Studies – Where Does the Money Go?](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter6-intro.html)
* [Chapter 7 – Case Studies – The Invisible Money](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter7-intro.html)
* [Chapter 8 – Putting the Parts Together, OpenSpending and Publish What You Fund](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter8-intro.html)
* [Final Observations and Review](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter9-intro.html)
* [Further Resources](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/bibliography.html)
* [Appendix](http://openspending.org/resources/gift/chapter10-intro.html)

### Get involved in the next edition

This release is version one, and we hope that the research will be ongoing as the OpenSpending community grows and the tools and network develop. As this happens, we’d really love your input. Some suggestions:

1. Feedback – let us know what you thought of the report and suggest improvements, particularly feedback for GIFT, what role would you like to see them play in this important field?
2. Keep your eyes peeled for interesting projects. We’re hoping to feature information about new projects in the blog, so drop a line to the [mailing list](http://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/openspending) if you know of any we should feature.
3. Help us build up the [finance group on datacatalogs.org](http://datacatalogs.org/group/finance) and review the sites for their usefulness. Ever tried to get fiscal information out of a portal? Did you get what you were after? And importantly, could you use it once you had it? Let us know [here](https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGNXNVFXdDlPNlRDaXB2bXc0aGR5UVE6MQ#gid=0).

Follow up posts on the findings in detail coming soon!

Technology for Fiscal Transparency – Where Next?

- March 21, 2012 in Announcements, External Projects, Public Finance and Government Data, Publications

 

## Who is using technology to follow the money? The hunt is on…

Over the last month, we have been working on a report entitled “Technology for Transparent and Accountable Public Finance” for the Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency for next month’s Open Government Partnership meeting.

by imtfi on Flickr

We are hoping to identify the most promising projects around the world that are using technology (web, mobile or otherwise) to further aims of fiscal transparency. Of particular interest are projects that aim to:

* Publish more or better data related to fiscal processes (aid, revenues, budgets, audits, etc. — see below),
* Help understand this data through the creation of better visualisation and data analysis tools,
* Educate citizens about fiscal processes, and assist civil society organisations promoting accountable governance,
* Facilitate direct participation in fiscal matters through participatory budgeting, citizen auditing and the like,
* Provide policymakers with complete and reliable data relevant to their work, enabling them to make better decisions.

We’re particularly interested in efforts to improve transparency in 3 main areas:

* Looking at where the money comes from: In revenue processes (taxation, extractive industry, etc.),
* Monitoring where the money goes: The budgeting process (participatory budgeting, comparisons of planned and retrospective budgets) through to auditing of expenditure, and everything in between.
* The invisible money: projects that aim to improve public understanding of state owned (or semi-owned) enterprises, sovereign wealth funds and contingent liabilities – information on which often are not published as part of current budgeting practices.

There will be particular focus on the questions ‘Who are the users?’ and examining their motivations for getting involved, the scalability and applicability of given solutions to other contexts.

The report will also aim to highlight gaps – so please feel free to think outside the box; if there is cutting edge technology being used in other fields besides public finance, please feel free to suggest it – maybe no-one apart from you has thought of it yet!

## Over to you

We are now opening up to the community to let us know if there are any projects we should be aware of and include in the report.

If you are aware of any projects that we should cover in the report, or if you have any more general observations on the above, please let us know. We have created a [Google form](https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGZ1anpCaVZWTTBmR2JQWXFGc0pxeEE6MQ#gid=0) which you can use to give full details and look in more detail into some of the areas we are focussing on.

For more general comments or observations, and notes of people to contact, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line: lucy.chambers [at] okfn.org and velichka.dimitrova [at] okfn.org.

Living Labs Global Award 2012 – Two Open Knowledge Foundation Projects Nominated

- March 8, 2012 in Cities, Events

Two projects of the Open Knowledge Foundation have been nominated for the Living Labs Global Award 2012: OpenSpending.mobi – Participatory budgeting through augmented reality and CityData – Making Cities Smarter – A central entry point to all your city’s data. Out of nearly 700 submitted showcases, about 15% have been selected to submit an extended version of the showcase. The Winning Showcases will be presented during the Rio Summit on Service Innovation in Rio de Janeiro on 2-3 May, 2012.

The Living Labs Global Award cooperated with cities in Africa, Asia, South and North America and Europe in order to present challenges related to health, mobility, education urban management and sustainable development, affecting more than 125 million people. Winners of the Living Labs Global Award are invited to implement their showcase as a pilot project, providing valuable inputs in product development and public sector procurement.

“Companies, non-governmental organisations and research centres have invested in technologies that change our cities”. The Living Labs Global Award 2012 provides an opportunity to innovators to present their solutions, receive professional and detailed evaluation, and is a distinguished recognition of their efforts in providing sustainable and innovative solutions for cities.

OpenSpending.mobi is nominated in the category Participation in Service Design and Delivery in Sant Cugat del Valles, Spain.

An increasing number of cities invite their citizens to help allocate municipal funds through participatory budgeting. Yet these debates often remain abstract: should more funds be given to schools or hospitals? Should the city pay down debt by selling property or by reducing social benefits?

OpenSpending.mobi aims to make budgeting debates happen where their effects will take place: out in the streets. The project will geo-code local government expenditure, and present funding information as location-based virtual overlays on mobile devices. Both the city government and normal citizens will be able to either propose new projects or rate and comment on those of others.

With a growing set of other Augmented Reality (AR) layers becoming accessible, more and more information will be available to facilitate hyperlocal decision-making. The project could be further expanded to include regular group tours through the city in which digital layers and real-life debate combine into a data-based moving agora.

CityData – Making Cities Smarter is nominated in the category Free Spatial Data for Information & Services in Kristiansand, Norway.

Where do citizens and developers go for information in your city? Perhaps for public transport timetables they have to visit the websites of the local bus and tram companies, for information about bin collections a local council site, for crime data the local police website … and so on.

CityData is a platform that brings geo-coded information from local councils, departments and agencies together in one place. Different agencies can upload links to their data from existing systems either using an intuitive web front end or via a powerful API, into grouped spaces on the platform where they can retain their distinctive branding. It provides facilities for agencies to upload and review data before it goes live. It uses non-proprietary, open-source software, tried and tested on large existing projects such as datagm.org.uk, a data platform for the Greater Manchester area.

Data can be linked on external sites, or held as structured data on the CityData server, in which case a suite of visualisations and maps are available to users as well as an API to query the data. By making data from many different local sources discoverable and searchable, CityData encourages local app developers to build services using multiple data streams – for example, combining geospatial transport and house price data to make suggestions to a user who needs to find a place to live.

Living Labs Award Contact at OKFN: velichka.dimitrova [at] okfn.org

EU Lobbyists Mapped

- June 30, 2011 in Projects

This is a contribution by Anders Pedersen.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about the relaunch of the Transparency Register of the European Commission.

The register contains information submitted on a voluntary basis from NGOs, lobbyists and associations who spend money influencing the decision making process in the EU.

Before you check out the map below, you should take a few things into account:

– The reported amounts are voluntary judgements from the organizations them selves. The Commission is not obliged to monitor or control the statements from companies or associations. Most often organizations leave the field blank or submit a vague indicator (ie. € <50,000).

– This map only contain only a share of the 3,000 organizations, which were in the register by March 2011, when I obtained the data. The data available from the Commission is in a format, which has been time consuming to crack and thus quite a bit of organizations are missing.

– Please take into account that I have not cross checked the entire data for their precise location, and thus you will might find a few errors where google misplaced locations.

With that in mind – here are the organizations of the Transparency Register, mapped

Source: European Commission, Data as of March 2011.