You are browsing the archive for Jonathan Gray.

Publication: A Field Guide to “Fake News” and Other Information Disorders

- January 18, 2018 in Data Journalism, News

This blog has been reposted from http://jonathangray.org/2018/01/08/field-guide-to-fake-news/
Last week saw the launch of A Field Guide to “Fake News and Other Information Disorders, a new free and open access resource to help students, journalists and researchers investigate misleading content, memes, trolling and other phenomena associated with recent debates around “fake news”. The field guide responds to an increasing demand for understanding the interplay between digital platforms, misleading information, propaganda and viral content practices, and their influence on politics and public life in democratic societies. It contains methods and recipes for tracing trolling practices, the publics and modes of circulation of viral news and memes online, and the commercial underpinnings of this content. The guide aims to be an accessible learning resource for digitally-savvy students, journalists and researchers interested in this topic. The guide is the first project of the Public Data Lab, a new interdisciplinary network to facilitate research, public engagement and debate around the future of the data society – which includes researchers from several universities in Europe, including King’s College London, Sciences Po Paris, Aalborg University in Copenhagen, Politecnico of Milano, INRIA, École Normale Supérieure of Lyon and the University of Amsterdam. It has been undertaken in collaboration with First Draft, an initiative dedicated to improving skills and standards in the reporting and sharing of information that emerges online, which is now based at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Claire Wardle who leads First Draft comments on the release: “We are so excited to support this project as it provides journalists and students with concrete computational skills to investigate and map these networks of fabricated sites and accounts. Few people fully recognize that in order to understand the online disinformation ecosystem, we need to develop these computational mechanisms for monitoring this type of manipulation online. This project provides this skills and techniques in a wonderfully accessible way.” A number of universities and media organisations have been testing, using and exploring a first sample of the guide which was released in April 2017. Earlier in the year, BuzzFeed News drew on several of the methods and datasets in the guide in order to investigate the advertising trackers used on “fake news” websites. The guide is freely available at on the project website at fakenews.publicdatalab.org (direct PDF link here), as well as on Zenodo at doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1136271. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license to encourage readers to freely copy, translate, redistribute and reuse the book. A translation is underway into Japanese. All the assets necessary to translate and publish the guide in other languages are available on the Public Data Lab’s GitHub page. Further details about contributing researchers, institutions and collaborators are available on the website. The project is being launched at the Digital Methods Winter School 2018 organised by the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam, a year after we first started working on the project at the Winter School 2017. We are also in discussion with Sage about a book drawing on this project.

New edition of Data Journalism Handbook to explore journalistic interventions in the data society

- January 12, 2018 in Data Journalism, data journalism handbook, data literacy, journalism, Open Access

This blog has been reposted from http://jonathangray.org/2017/12/20/new-edition-data-journalism-handbook/ The first edition of The Data Journalism Handbook has been widely used and widely cited by students, practitioners and researchers alike, serving as both textbook and sourcebook for an emerging field. It has been translated into over 12 languages – including Arabic, Chinese, Czech, French, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian – and is used for teaching at many leading universities, as well as teaching and training centres around the world. A huge amount has happened in the field since the first edition in 2012. The Panama Papers project undertook an unprecedented international collaboration around a major database of leaked information about tax havens and offshore financial activity. Projects such as The Migrants Files, The Guardian’s The Counted and ProPublica’s Electionland have shown how journalists are not just using and presenting data, but also creating and assembling it themselves in order to improve data journalistic coverage of issues they are reporting on.

The Migrants’ Files saw journalists in 15 countries work together to create a database of people who died in their attempt to reach or stay in Europe.

Changes in digital technologies have enabled the development of formats for storytelling, interactivity and engagement with the assistance of drones, crowdsourcing tools, satellite data, social media data and bespoke software tools for data collection, analysis, visualisation and exploration. Data journalists are not simply using data as a source, they are also increasingly investigating, interrogating and intervening around the practices, platforms, algorithms and devices through which it is created, circulated and put to work in the world. They are creatively developing techniques and approaches which are adapted to very different kinds of social, cultural, economic, technological and political settings and challenges. Five years after its publication, we are developing a revised second edition, which will be published as an open access book with an innovative academic press. The new edition will be significantly overhauled to reflect these developments. It will complement the first edition with an examination of the current state of data journalism which is at once practical and reflective, profiling emerging practices and projects as well as their broader consequences.

“The Infinite Campaign” by Sam Lavigne (New Inquiry) repurposes ad creation data in order to explore “the bizarre rubrics Twitter uses to render its users legible”.

Contributors to the first edition include representatives from some of the world’s best-known newsrooms data journalism organisations, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Chicago Tribune, Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, the Financial Times, Helsingin Sanomat, La Nacion, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, Verdens Gang, Wales Online, Zeit Online and many others. The new edition will include contributions from both leading practitioners and leading researchers of data journalism, exploring a diverse constellation of projects, methods and techniques in this field from voices and initiatives around the world. We are working hard to ensure a good balance of gender, geography and themes. Our approach in the new edition draws on the notion of “critical technical practice” from Philip Agre, which he formulates as an attempt to have “one foot planted in the craft work of design and the other foot planted in the reflexive work of critique” (1997). Similarly, we wish to provide an introduction to a major new area of journalism practice which is at once critically reflective and practical. The book will offer reflection from leading practitioners on their experiments and experiences, as well as fresh perspectives on the practical considerations of research on the field from leading scholars. The structure of the book reflects different ways of seeing and understanding contemporary data journalism practices and projects. The introduction highlights the renewed relevance of a book on data journalism in the current so-called “post-truth” moment, examining the resurgence of interest in data journalism, fact-checking and strengthening the capacities of “facty” publics in response to fears about “alternative facts” and the speculation about a breakdown of trust in experts and institutions of science, policy, law, media and democracy. As well as reviewing a variety of critical responses to data journalism and associated forms of datafication, it looks at how this field may nevertheless constitute an interesting site of progressive social experimentation, participation and intervention. The first section on “data journalism in context” will review histories, geographies, economics and politics of data journalism – drawing on leading studies in these areas. The second section on “data journalism practices” will look at a variety of practices for assembling data, working with data, making sense with data and organising data journalism from around the world. This includes a wide variety of case studies – including the use of social media data, investigations into algorithms and fake news, the use of networks, open source coding practices and emerging forms of storytelling through news apps and data animations. Other chapters look at infrastructures for collaboration, as well as creative responses to disappearing data and limited connectivity. The third and final section on “what does data journalism do?”, examines the social life of data journalism projects, including everyday encounters with visualisations, organising collaborations across fields, the impacts of data projects in various settings, and how data journalism can constitute a form of “data activism”. As well as providing a rich account of the state of the field, the book is also intended to inspire and inform “experiments in participation” between journalists, researchers, civil society groups and their various publics. This aspiration is partly informed by approaches to participatory design and research from both science and technology studies as well as more recent digital methods research. Through the book we thus aim to explore not only what data journalism initiatives do, but how they might be done differently in order to facilitate vital public debates about both the future of the data society as well as the significant global challenges that we currently face.

How could a global public database help to tackle corporate tax avoidance?

- February 17, 2017 in Featured, OD4TJ

A new research report published today looks at the current state and future prospects of a global public database of corporate accounts.
Shipyard of the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam, 1750. Wikipedia.
The multinational corporation has become one of the most powerful and influential forms of economic organisation in the modern world. Emerging at the bleeding edge of colonial expansion in the seventeenth century, entities such as the Dutch and British East India Companies required novel kinds of legal, political, economic and administrative work to hold their sprawling networks of people, objects, resources, activities and information together across borders. Today it is estimated that over two thirds of the world’s hundred biggest economic entities are corporations rather than countries. Our lives are permeated by and entangled with the activities and fruits of these multinationals. We are surrounded by their products, technologies, platforms, apps, logos, retailers, advertisements, publications, packaging, supply chains, infrastructures, furnishings and fashions. In many countries they have assumed the task of supplying societies with water, food, heat, clothing, transport, electricity, connectivity, information, entertainment and sociality. We carry their trackers and technologies in our pockets and on our screens. They provide us not only with luxuries and frivolities, but the means to get by and to flourish as human beings in the contemporary world. They guide us through our lives, both figuratively and literally. The rise of new technologies means that corporations may often have more data about us than states do – and more data than we have about ourselves. But what do we know about them? What are these multinational entities – and where are they? What do they bring together? What role do they play in our economies and societies? Are their tax contributions commensurate with their profits and activities? Where should we look to inform legal, economic and policy measures to shape their activities for the benefit of society, not just shareholders? At the moment these questions are surprisingly difficult to answer – at least in part due to a lack of publicly available information. We are currently on the brink of a number of important policy decisions (e.g. at the EU and in the UK) which will have a lasting effect on what we are able to know and how we are able to respond to these mysterious multinational giants.
Image from report on IKEA’s tax planning strategies. Greens/EFA Group in European Parliament.
A wave of high-profile public controversies, mobilisations and interventions around the tax affairs of multinationals followed in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Tax justice and anti-austerity activists have occupied high street stores in order to protest multinational tax avoidance. A group of local traders in Wales sought to move their town offshore, in order to publicise and critique legal and accountancy practices used by multinationals. One artist issued fake certificates of incorporation for Cayman Island companies to highlight the social costs of tax avoidance. Corporate tax avoidance came to epitomise economic globalisation with an absence of corresponding democratic societal controls. This public concern after the crisis prompted a succession of projects from various transnational groups and institutions. The then-G8 and G20 committed to reducing the “misalignment” between the activities and profits of multinationals. The G20 tasked the OECD with launching an initiative dedicated to tackling tax “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” (BEPS). The OECD BEPS project surfaced different ways of understanding and accounting for multinational companies – including questions such as what they are, where they are, how to calculate where they should pay money, and by whom they should be governed. For example, many industry associations, companies, institutions and audit firms advocated sticking to the “arms length principle” which would treat multinationals as a group of effectively independent legal entities. On the other hand, civil society groups and researchers called for “unitary taxation”, which would treat multinationals as a single entity with operations in multiple countries. The consultation also raised questions about the governance of transnational tax policy, with some groups arguing that responsibility should shift from the OECD to the United Nations  to ensure that all countries have a say – especially those in the Global South.
Exhibition of Paolo Cirio’s “Loophole for All” in Basel, 2015. Paolo Cirio.
While many civil society actors highlighted the shortcomings and limitations of the OECD BEPS process, they acknowledged that it did succeed in obtaining global institutional recognition for a proposal which had been central to the “tax justice” agenda for the previous decade: “Country by Country Reporting” (CBCR), which would require multinationals to produce comprehensive, global reports on their economic activities and tax contributions, broken down by country. But there was one major drawback: it was suggested that this information should be shared between tax authorities, rather than being made public. Since the release of the the OECD BEPS final reports in 2015, a loose-knit network of campaigners have been busy working to make this data public. Today we are publishing a new research report looking at the current state and future prospects of a global database on the economic activities and tax contributions of multinationals – including who might use it and how, what it could and should contain, the extent to which one could already start building such a database using publicly available sources, and next steps for policy, advocacy and technical work. It also highlights what is involved in making of data about multinationals, including social and political processes of classification and standardisation that this data depends on.
New report on why we need a public database on the tax contributions and economic activities of multinational companies
The report reviews several public sources of CBCR data – including from legislation introduced in the wake of the financial crisis. Under the Trump administration, the US is currently in the process of repealing and dismantling key parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including Section 1504 on transparency in the extractive industry, which Oxfam recently described as the “brutal loss of 10 years of work”. Some of the best available public CBCR data is generated as a result of the European Capital Requirements Directive IV (CRD IV), which gives us an unprecedented (albeit often imperfect) series of snapshots of multinational financial institutions with operations in Europe. Rapporteurs at the European Parliament just published an encouraging draft in support of making country-by-country reporting data public. While the longer term dream for many is a global public database housed at the United Nations, until this is realised civil society groups may build their own. As well as being used as an informational resource in itself, such a database could be seen as form of “data activism” to change what public institutions count – taking a cue from citizen and civil society data projects to take measure of issues they care about – from migrant deaths to police killings, literacy rates, water access or fracking pollution. A civil society database could play another important role: it could be a means to facilitate the assembly and coordination of different actors who share an interest in the economic activities of multinationals. It would thus be not only a source of information, but also a mechanism for organisation – allowing journalists, researchers, civil society organisations and others to collaborate around the collection, verification, analysis and interpretation of this data. In parallel to ongoing campaigns for public data, a civil society database could thus be viewed as a kind of democratic experiment opening up space for public engagement, deliberation and imagination around how the global economy is organised, and how it might be organised differently. In the face of an onslaught of nationalist challenges to political and economic world-making projects of the previous century – not least through the “neoliberal protectionism” of the Trump administration – supporting the development of transnational democratic publics with an interest in understanding and responding to some of the world’s biggest economic actors is surely an urgent task. Launched in 2016, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network, the FTC and coordinated by TJN and OKI, Open Data for Tax Justice is a project to create a global network of people and organisations using open data to improve advocacy, journalism and public policy around tax justice. More details about the project and its members can be found at datafortaxjustice.net. This piece is cross-posted at OpenDemocracy.

Who Will Shape the Future of the Data Society?

- October 5, 2016 in data infrastructures, Events, Featured, Featured Project, iodc16, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, research

This piece was originally posted on the blog of the International Open Data Conference 2016, which takes place in Madrid, 6-7th October 2016. The contemporary world is held together by a vast and overlapping fabric of information systems. These information systems do not only tell us things about the world around us. They also play a central role in organising many different aspects of our lives. They are not only instruments of knowledge, but also engines of change. But what kind of change will they bring? Contemporary data infrastructures are the result of hundreds of years of work and thought. In charting the development of these infrastructures we can learn about the rise and fall not only of the different methods, technologies and standards implicated in the making of data, but also about the articulation of different kinds of social, political, economic and cultural worlds: different kinds of “data worlds”. future-data-pablo Beyond the rows and columns of data tables, the development of data infrastructures tell tales of the emergence of the world economy and global institutions; different ways of classifying populations; different ways of managing finances and evaluating performance; different programmes to reform and restructure public institutions; and how all kinds of issues and concerns are rendered into quantitative portraits in relation to which progress can be charted – from gender equality to child mortality, biodiversity to broadband access, unemployment to urban ecology. The transnational network assembled in Madrid for the International Open Data Conference has the opportunity to play a significant role in shaping the future of these data worlds. Many of those present have made huge contributions towards an agenda of opening up datasets and developing capacities to use them. Thanks to these efforts there is now global momentum around open data amongst international organisations, national governments, local administrations and civil society groups – which will have an enduring impact on how data is made public. Perhaps, around a decade after the first stirrings of interest in what we know know as “open data”, it is time to have a broader conversation around not only the opening up and use of datasets, but also the making of data infrastructures: of what issues are rendered into data and how, and the kinds of dynamics of collective life that these infrastructures give rise to. How might we increase public deliberation around the calibration and direction of these engines of change? Anyone involved with the creation of official data will be well aware that this is not a trivial proposition. Not least because of the huge amount of effort and expense that can be incurred in everything from developing standards, commissioning IT systems, organising consultation processes and running the social, technical and administrative systems which can be required to create and maintain even the smallest and simplest of datasets. Reshaping data worlds can be slow and painstaking work. But unless we instate processes to ensure alignment between data infrastructures and the concerns of their various publics, we risk sustaining systems which are at best disconnected from and at worst damaging towards those whom they are intended to benefit. What might such social shaping of data infrastructures look like? Luckily there is no shortage of recent examples – from civil society groups campaigning for changes in existing information systems (such as advocacy around the UK’s company register), to cases of citizen and civil society data leading to changes in official data collection practices, to the emergence of new tools and methods to work with, challenge and articulate alternatives to official data. Official data can also be augmented by “born digital” data derived from a variety of different platforms, sources and devices which can be creatively repurposed in the service of studying and securing progress around different issues. While there is a great deal of experimentation with data infrastructures “in the wild”, how might institutions learn from these initiatives in order to make public data infrastructures more responsive to their publics? How can we open up new spaces for participation and deliberation around official information systems at the same time as building on the processes and standards which have developed over decades to ensure the quality, integrity and comparability of official data? How might participatory design methods be applied to involve different publics in the making of public data? How might official data be layered with other “born digital” data sources to develop a richer picture around issues that matter? How do we develop the social, technical and methodological capacities required to enable more people to take part not just in using datasets, but also reshaping data worlds? Addressing these questions will be crucial to the development of a new phase of the open data movement – from the opening up of datasets to the opening up of data infrastructures. Public institutions may find they have not only new users, but new potential contributors and collaborators as the sites where public data is made begin to multiply and extend outside of the public sector – raising new issues and challenges related to the design, governance and political economics of public information systems. The development of new institutional processes, policies and practices to increase democratic engagement around data infrastructures may be more time consuming than some of the comparatively simpler steps that institutions can take to open up their datasets. But further work in this area is vital to secure progress on a wide range of issues – from tackling tax base erosion to tracking progress towards commitments made at the recent Paris climate negotiations. As a modest contribution to advancing research and practice around these issues, a new initiative called the Public Data Lab is forming to convene researchers, institutions and civil society groups with an interest in the making of data infrastructures, as well as the development of capacities that are required for more people to not only take part in the data society, but also to more meaningfully participate in shaping its future.

New Report: “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”

- March 3, 2016 in advocacy, citizen data, citizen generated data, civil society, civil society data, Data Journalism, Data Revolution, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, public information, research

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 09.42.12 copy Following on from our discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, today we’re pleased to announce the release of a new report titled “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”. Undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the CIVICUS DataShift, the report contains seven case studies accompanied by a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions and policy-makers. The case studies cover data collection initiatives around a wide variety of different topics – from literacy rates in East Africa to water access in Malawi, migration deaths in Europe to fracking pollution in the US. It was researched and written by myself, Danny Lämmerhirt and Liliana Bounegru. We hope that it will contribute to advancing policies and practices to make public information systems more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society. You can download the full report here. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
The information systems of public institutions play a crucial role in how we collectively look at and act in the world. They shape the way decisions are made, progress is evaluated, resources are allocated, issues are flagged, debates are framed and action is taken. As a United Nations (UN) report recently put it, “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability.”1 Every information system renders certain aspects of the world visible and lets others recede into the background. Datasets highlight some things and not others. They make the world comprehensible and navigable in their own way – whether for the purposes of policy evaluation, public service delivery, administration or governance. Given the critical role of public information systems, what happens when they leave out parts of the picture that civil society groups consider vital? What can civil society actors do to shape or influence these systems so they can be used to advance progress around social, democratic and environmental issues? This report looks at how citizens and civil society groups can generate data as a means to influence institutional data collection. In the following pages, we profile citizen generated and civil society data projects and how they have been used as advocacy instruments to change institutional data collection – including looking at the strategies, methods, technologies and resources that have been mobilised to this end. We conclude with a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions, policy-makers and funders. The report was commissioned as part of a research series by DataShift, an initiative that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen-generated data. It follows on from another recent discussion paper from Open Knowledge on what can be done to make the “data revolution” more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society,2 as well as a briefing note by DataShift on how institutions can support sustainability of citizen-generated data initiatives.3

New Initiative: Open Data for Tax Justice #OD4TJ

- March 2, 2016 in Campaigning, Featured, OD4TJ, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Our Work, Public Money

OD4TJ Every year countries lose billions of dollars to tax avoidance, tax evasion and more generally to illicit financial flows. According to a recent IMF estimate around $700 billion of tax revenues is lost each year due to profit-shifting. In developing countries the loss is estimated to be around $200 billion, which as a share of GDP represents nearly three times the loss suffered by OECD countries. Meanwhile, economist Gabriel Zucman estimates that certain components of undeclared offshore wealth total above $7 trillion, implying tax losses of $200 billion annually; Jim Henry’s work for TJN suggests the full total of offshore assets may range between $21 trillion and $32 trillion. We want to transform the way that data is used for advocacy, journalism and public policy to address this urgent challenge by creating of a global network of civil society groups, investigative reporters, data journalists, civic hackers, researchers, public servants and others. Today, Open Knowledge and the Tax Justice Network are delighted to announce the launch of a new initiative in this area: Open Data for Tax Justice. We want to initiate a global network of people and organisations working to create, use and share data to improve advocacy and journalism around tax justice. The website is: http://datafortaxjustice.net/ and using the hashtag #od4tj. The network will work to rally campaigners, civil society groups, investigative reporters, data journalists, civic hackers, researchers, public servants and others; it will aim to catalyse collaborations and forge lasting alliances between the tax justice movement and the open data movement. We have received a huge level of support and encouragement from preliminary discussions with our initial members, and look forward to expanding the network and its activities over the coming months. What is on the cards? We’re working on a white paper on what a global data infrastructure for tax justice might look like. We also want to generate more practical guidance materials for data projects – as well as to build momentum with online and offline events. We will kick off with some preliminary activities at this year’s global Open Data Day on Saturday 5th March. Tax justice will be one of the main themes of the London Open Data Day, and if you’d like to have a go at doing something tax related at an event that you’re going to, you can join the discussion here. OD4TJ members

New Report: “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape”

- September 2, 2015 in digital methods, Featured, financial transparency, issue mapping, open budget data, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, Public Money, Releases, research

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 to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

New Discussion Paper: “Democratising the Data Revolution”

- July 9, 2015 in Campaigning, civil society, data infrastructures, Data Journalism, Data Revolution, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Policy, research

Democratising the Data Revolution
“New technologies are leading to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data available, creating unprecedented possibilities for informing and transforming society and protecting the environment. Governments, companies, researchers and citizen groups are in a ferment of experimentation, innovation and adaptation to the new world of data, a world in which data are bigger, faster and more detailed than ever before. This is the data revolution.” – UN Data Revolution Group, 2014
What will the “data revolution” do? What will it be about? What will it count? What kinds of risks and harms might it bring? Whom and what will it serve? And who will get to decide? Today we are launching a new discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, which is intended to advance thinking and action around civil society engagement with the data revolution. It looks beyond the disclosure of existing information, towards more ambitious and substantive forms of democratic engagement with data infrastructures.1 It concludes with a series of questions about what practical steps institutions and civil society organisations might take to change what is measured and how, and how these measurements are put to work. You can download the full PDF report here, or continue to read on in this blog post.

What Counts?

How might civil society actors shape the data revolution? In particular, how might they go beyond the question of what data is disclosed towards looking at what is measured in the first place? To kickstart discussion around this topic, we will look at three kinds of intervention: changing existing forms of measurement, advocating new forms of measurement and undertaking new forms of measurement.
Changing Existing Forms of Measurement
Rather than just focusing on the transparency, disclosure and openness of public information, civil society groups can argue for changing what is measured with existing data infrastructures. One example of this is recent campaigning around company ownership in the UK. Advocacy groups wanted to unpick networks of corporate ownership and control in order to support their campaigning and investigations around tax avoidance, tax evasion and illicit financial flows. While the UK company register recorded information about “nominal ownership”, it did not include information about so-called “beneficial ownership”, or who ultimately benefits from the ownership and control of companies. Campaigners undertook an extensive programme of activities to advocate for changes and extensions to existing data infrastructures – including via legislation, software systems, and administrative protocols.2
Advocating New Forms of Measurement
As well as changing or recalibrating existing forms of measurement, campaigners and civil society organisations can make the case for the measurement of things which were not previously measured. For example, over the past several decades social and political campaigning has resulted in new indicators about many different issues – such as gender inequality, health, work, disability, pollution or education.3 In such cases activists aimed to establish a given indicator as important and relevant for public institutions, decision makers, and broader publics – in order to, for example, inform policy development or resource allocation.
Undertaking New Forms of Measurement
Historically, many civil society organisations and advocacy groups have collected their own data to make the case for action on issues that they work on – from human rights abuses to endangered species. Recently there have been several data journalism projects which highlight gaps in what is officially counted. The Migrant Files is an open database containing information about over 29,000 people who died on their way to Europe since 2000, collated from publicly available sources. It was created by a network of journalists who were concerned that this data was not being systematically collected by European institutions. In a similar vein The Counted project from The Guardian records information about deaths in police custody in the US, explicitly in response to the lack of official data collection on this topic. The Migrant Files

The Role of the Open Data Movement

The nascent open data movement has often focused on the release of pre-existing information about things which are already routinely measured by public institutions. Advocates have pushed for the release of datasets under open licenses in machine-readable formats to facilitate widespread re-use – whether to develop new applications and services, or to facilitate new forms of journalism and advocacy. Datasets are often published via data portals, of which there are now hundreds around the world at local, regional, national and supranational levels. As well as opening up new datasets, some public institutions have implemented mechanisms to gather input and feedback on open data release priorities, such as:
  • Advisory panels and user groups – e.g. as the UK’s Open Data User Group (ODUG);
  • Dedicated staff – e.g. community management or “Chief Data Officer” positions;
  • User engagement channels – e.g. social media accounts, forums and mailing lists;
  • Data request mechanisms – e.g. Data.gov.uk’s dataset request service or the EU Open Data Portal’s “Suggest a Dataset” form;
  • Consultation processes – e.g. Open Government Partnership National Action Plans;
  • Solicitation for input around data standards – e.g. the US’s Federal Spending Transparency issue tracker on GitHub.
In principle these kinds of mechanisms could be used not just to inform priorities for the release of existing datasets – but also in order to facilitate engagement between institutions and civil society actors around what should be measured by the public sector and how. To use a metaphor, if data can be compared to photography, then might the open data movement play a role in intervening not just around access and circulation of snapshots taken by public institutions, but also around what is depicted and how it is shot?

Questions for Discussion

We would like to catalyse discussion and gather input about how to increase civil society engagement around the data revolution and questions about what should be measured and how. To this end, we invite advocacy groups, journalists, public institutions, data users, researchers and others to respond to the following questions.
What Can Civil Society Groups Do?
  • What can civil society organisations do to engage with the data revolution?
  • What role might the nascent open data movement play in mediating between civil society organisations and public institutions around what should be measured?
  • What opportunities does the data revolution present for civil society organisations?
  • What are the best examples of democratic interventions to change, advocate or create new forms of measurement (both present and past)?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to greater civil society engagement with the data revolution? How might these be addressed?
  • Which kinds of transnational challenges and issues (e.g. climate change, tax base erosion) are currently inadequately dealt with by national data infrastructures?
  • What areas might new kinds of measurement make the biggest difference, and how?
  • What factors are most important in ensuring that data leads to action?
  • What might civil society groups do to flag potential risks and unwanted consequences of data infrastructures as well as their benefits?
What Can Public Institutions Do?
  • What can public institutions do to better understand the interests and priorities of civil society organisations around what should be measured?
  • Are there examples of where open data initiatives have facilitated significant changes to existing datasets, or the creation of new kinds of datasets?
  • Which kinds of mechanisms might be most effective in understanding and responding to the interests of civil society organisations around what is measured and how?
  • What are the biggest obstacles to public institutions responding more effectively to the data needs and interests of civil society groups? How might these be addressed?

How to Respond

We welcome responses on these and other topics via the channels below:

  1. In this context we understand data infrastructures as composites of technical, legal and social systems (e.g. software, laws, policies, practices, standards) involved in the creation and management of data. 
  2. See: Gray, J. & Davies, T (2015) “Fighting Phantom Firms in the UK: From Opening Up Datasets to Reshaping Data Infrastructures?”. Working paper available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2610937 
  3. See: Bruno, I., Didier, E., and Vitale, T. (eds) (2014) Statistics and Activism. Special issue of Partecipazione e conflitto. The Open Journal of Sociopolitical Studies. Available at: http://siba-ese.unisalento.it/index.php/paco/issue/view/1248 

Just Released: “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”

- July 2, 2015 in Data Journalism, eu, European Union, Featured, financial transparency, Follow the Money, open budget data, Open Fiscal Data, Open Knowledge, Open Spending, Policy, research, Where Does My Money Go

The EU has committed to spending €959,988 billion between 2014 and 2020. This money is disbursed through over 80 funds and programmes that are managed by over 100 different authorities. Where does this money come from? How is it allocated? And how is it spent? Today we are delighted to announce the release of “Where Does Europe’s Money Go? A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources”, which aims to help civil society groups, journalists and others to navigate the vast landscape of documents and datasets in order to “follow the money” in the EU. The guide also suggests steps that institutions should take in order to enable greater democratic oversight of EU public finances. It was undertaken by Open Knowledge with support from the Adessium Foundation.
Where Does Europe's Money Go?
As we have seen from projects like Farm Subsidy and journalistic collaborations around the EU Structural Funds it can be very difficult and time-consuming to put together all of the different pieces needed to understand flows of EU money. Groups of journalists on these projects have spent many months requesting, scraping, cleaning and assembling data to get an overview of just a handful of the many different funds and programmes through which EU money is spent. The analysis of this data has led to many dozens of news stories, and in some cases even criminal investigations. Better data, documentation, advocacy and journalism around EU public money is vital to addressing the “democratic deficit” in EU fiscal policy. To this end, we make the following recommendations to EU institutions and civil society organisations:
  1. Establish a single central point of reference for data and documents about EU revenue, budgeting and expenditure and ensure all the information is up to date at this domain (e.g. at a website such as ec.europa.eu/budget). At the same time, ensure all EU budget data are available from the EU open data portal as open data.
  2. Create an open dataset with key details about each EU fund, including name of the fund, heading, policy, type of management, implementing authorities, link to information on beneficiaries, link to legal basis in Eur-Lex and link to regulation in Eur-Lex.
  3. Extend the Financial Transparency System to all EU funds by integrating or federating detailed data expenditures from Members States, non-EU Members and international organisations. Data on beneficiaries should include, when relevant, a unique European identifier of company, and when the project is co-financed, the exact amount of EU funding received and the total amount of the project.
  4. Clarify and harmonise the legal framework regarding transparency rules for the beneficiaries of EU funds.
  5. Support and strengthen funding for civil society groups and journalists working on EU public finances.
  6. Conduct a more detailed assessment of beneficiary data availability for all EU funds and for all implementing authorities – e.g., through a dedicated “open data audit”.
  7. Build a stronger central base of evidence about the uses and users of EU fiscal data – including data projects, investigative journalism projects and data users in the media and civil society.
Our intention is that the material in this report will become a living resource that we can continue to expand and update. If you have any comments or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. If you are interested in learning more about Open Knowledge’s other initiatives around open data and financial transparency you can explore the Where Does My Money Go? project, the OpenSpending project, read our other previous guides and reports or join the Follow the Money network. Where Does Europe’s Money Go - A Guide to EU Budget Data Sources

New research project to map the impact of open budget data

- March 4, 2015 in Featured, financial transparency, Follow the Money, open budget data, open budgets, Open Data, Open Spending, Policy, research

I’m pleased to announce a new research project to examine the impact of open budget data, undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam, supported by the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency (GIFT). The project will include an empirical mapping of who is active around open budget data around the world, and what the main issues, opportunities and challenges are according to different actors. Drawing on this mapping it will provide a review of the various definitions and conceptions of open budget data, arguments for why it matters, best practises for publication and engagement, as well as applications and outcomes in different countries around the world. As well as drawing on Open Knowledge’s extensive experience and expertise around open budget data (through projects such as Open Spending), it will utilise innovative tools and methods developed at the University of Amsterdam to harness evidence from the web, social media and collections of documents to inform and enrich our analysis. As part of this project we’re launching a collaborative bibliography of existing research and literature on open budget data and associated topics which we hope will become a useful resource for other organisations, advocates, policy-makers, and researchers working in this area. If you have suggestions for items to add, please do get in touch. This project follows on from other research projects we’ve conducted around this area – including on data standards for fiscal transparency, on technology for transparent and accountable public finance, and on mapping the open spending community.
Financial transparency field network with the Issuecrawler tool based on hyperlink analysis starting from members of Financial Transparency Coalition, 12th January 2015. Open Knowledge and Digital Methods Initiative.

Financial transparency field network with the Issuecrawler tool based on hyperlink analysis starting from members of Financial Transparency Coalition, 12th January 2015. Open Knowledge and Digital Methods Initiative.