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Publishing Budget and Spending Open Data

- April 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

This blog was written by Lorena Rivero del Paso (GIFT) and Oscar Montiel (Open Knowledge International) and was originally posted on the GIFT blog.

Increasingly, we see examples where lack of transparency and accountability from governments affects trust. Being able to follow public money flows is an important step to recover trust and aim towards more effective governance of public funds. Despite this, according to the most recent edition of the Open Data Barometer, the number of national governments that publish their budget and spending reports and figures as data isn’t growing consistently.

Considering the lack of progress in such publication and the relevance of fiscal data, from Open Knowledge International (OKI) and Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) we have partnered to support governments in the publication of budget and spending open data, through the Open Fiscal Data Package (OFDP). This specification allows publishers to structure their data in a way that makes its description and use as easy as possible and provides visualizations and developer tools for publishers and users with the OpenSpending platform.

As a follow up to the -Towards a schema for spending Open Data, Helpdesk included-blog post where you can read more in detail about the characteristics of the (OFDP), in this post we will guide you through, for a successful publication.

First: what information is expected in a budget/spending file?

Any budget and spending open dataset should have four basic components 1) fiscal year presented 2) budget classifications 3) source of funding and 4) amounts for each stage of the transaction. Additionally, the dataset can be complemented with other relevant data and classifications included in the Financial Management Information Systems (FMIS).

1) Period

  • Fiscal Year- The fiscal year is the framework in which the approved budget is executed. While some countries have already developed the annual budget within a multiyear perspective, through the preparation of medium-term fiscal and budget frameworks, these frameworks are usually established at a higher level of disaggregation than the annual budget and expenditures.

The dataset can include several past and future years according to data availability. For this, each fiscal year can be a separate dataset.

2) Budget classifications

Regarding the second component, budget classifications, we refer to those indicated in the Fiscal Transparency Code of the International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, for those countries who have progressed in incorporating program classification, it should be included as well. These are:

  • Administrative unit (government ministries/agencies and departments/divisions within agencies).
  • Economic type (“inputs” such as salaries, transfers, other non-salary current expenditures, capital spending) (following the international classification if available)
  • Functional and subfunctions (following the international classification if available)
  • Program/subprogram/activity/project; alternatively outcomes and/or outputs.

Some of these are cross-classifications, mainly in respect of the Program classification.

3) Source of funding

It serves to distinguish, in the financial statements, the origin of the domestically- financed expenditures (on-budget, extra-budgetary, counterpart fund), as well as from project aid financed expenditures.

4) Stages of the transaction

For the stage of the transaction, there is not a unique form of registration, but it is important to register clearly the type of data presented and which phase of the budget the user is looking at. The Expenditure Control: Key Features, Stages, and Actors[1] identify the next seven typical stages of the expenditure cycle, which should be considered for the dataset, according to the availability in the country:

  • Authorization of expenditure- A fundamental principle of public finance is that expenditure and revenue proposals must be legally authorized to ensure accountability.
  • Apportionment of authorization for specific periods and spending units- The purpose of apportionment is to prevent spending agencies from incurring obligations at a rate which would require the authorization of additional funds for the fiscal year in progress.
  • Reservation- Once the apportionment of expenditure authorization is made and the spending authority has been released, some countries’ Public Financial Management (PFM) systems include a stage at which funds are reserved for a specifically known expense but for which no contract has yet been issued. At this stage, there is no legal commitment, but it is known that the expense will be incurred during the budget year and, therefore, the reserved funds should not be used for other activities.
  • Commitment- The commitment stage is the point at which a potential future obligation to pay is established. A commitment occurs when a formal action, such as placing an order or awarding a contract, is taken that renders the government liable to pay at some time in the future when the order or contract is honoured by its counterpart.
  • Verification (or certification)- after goods have been delivered and/or services have been rendered by a supplier, an authorized officer within the spending unit concerned verifies their conformity with the contract or order, and that liability and due date of payment are recognized.
  • Payment order- Once checks are made to ensure that all previously stipulated controls have been performed and documented, a payment order is issued.
  • Payment- Once a payment order has been issued, payments are made through various instruments including checks, electronic funds transfer (EFT), and sometimes cash, in of a supplier or other recipient to discharge the liability. In line with internationally accepted good practice, the payment should be made through a Treasury Single Account (TSA) system- 

5) Additional data and classifications

  • Geographic classification-

A representation of which part of the country benefits from each of the government financial operations. This classification is difficult in most cases, so adaptations have taken the form of classifying by location of administrative units, taxpayers, recipients of government transfers, among others.

  • Investment projects-

Authorized public investment projects, including Public-Private Partnerships, if available. Data over these projects can be paired with geolocation by including its latitude and longitude. Furthermore, if more data is available in the Ministry of Finance systems, such as description or links cost-benefit analysis among others, we can analyze on a case to case basis.

  • Contracts-

Between 15 and 25 per cent of public expenditures are exercised through contracts. These data is useful data for complete traceability of the related part of the transactions. The number and detailed data of the procurement process and/or the awarded contract can be included as part of the file. If the Country has already implemented the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), an additional column can be included with the Open Contacting ID (OCID), linking both data structures without the need for duplicating data (Learn more about the OCDS here). The information on contracts in a standardised form will also allow us to link beneficiaries of these contracts and where the money goes.

Second: Structure of the Dataset

Disaggregation

The classifications should be disaggregated to the lowest level available so users can do a more specific use of the data.

Codes and descriptions

All of the classifications mentioned in the section above should always include one column for the code and one for the description for each level of disaggregation as displayed in the example below. These fields will allow the users to know what bits of the budget the dataset refers to. A clear data structure will allow the users to understand the different levels of the budget, how the programs, projects, etc are built and how money is allocated to them in the different stages of the budget.

Having these IDs and descriptions clear, will also allow mapping to the specification in a way that will later make it easy to visualise and navigate the data set once it is uploaded to the Open Fiscal Data Package.

The following image exemplifies the structure of ID + Description of the different levels of economic classification.

Horizontal structure

After analyzing use cases of the dataset and overseeing users interact with different structures, for the stages of the transaction it has been defined that each stage should be structured in one column (the other option is one column for all stages and only one column with amounts).

Third: Extension of the file

It’s common for budget or spending reports to be PDF files directly from the data. This might be easy to read for a human, but it’s not very easy to process by a computer. This is why data uploaded to OpenSpending should be produced or saved in a comma separated value (CSV) file. A CSV is the simplest machine-readable file that requires no special software to be used, like XLS that requires Excel or similar programs. It’s very light and allows you to use software that your computer may already have to start working with it. A CSV can be managed with scripts but it’s also very friendly for beginners to navigate, filter and modify without specific knowledge about databases.

You can see an example of the data from Mexico’s Federal Government below.

We have also prepared a data template where you can see the classifications and other data that will ensure quality data being published.

Fourth: Uploading the dataset using OFDP?

There are two ways of getting your budget data into OpenSpending. Both are available to everyone and can be tried today. We will discuss the two options and then compare under which circumstances you can best use which approach.

1. Upload directly with OS Packager

If you have a budget file already available as a tabular file in CSV form, you have everything you need to start using the Packager. You just need to create an account hereand you will be able to start uploading the data. If you have already published data using CKAN or any other open data platform, you can link directly to the CSV and start working with that data.

The packager tool divides the publication task into 4 steps:

  1. Data upload
  2. Data mapping/description
  3. Metadata input
  4. Data use

Each of these steps will guide you and in the end, you will have a data package. That is, a CSV file with the fields you originally had, as well as a JSON file with the description of these fields, mapped to the specification. This can be directly used in the OpenSpending Viewer.

2. Set up an Open Spending pipeline

While moving towards a more timely and disaggregated publication that would in turn be more useful for the users, there are different kinds of needs than for one time publishers. For example, to publish time series of spending we need all years spending data merged into one dataset, with this the size of the complete dataset will also be bigger. In these cases of governments that have progressed to a more advanced publication, we can use a pipeline.

A pipeline is basically a set of instructions that we provide to map the data to the specification while keeping some of the nuances of our data. This process implies writing pieces of code to perform data processing and loading to selected endpoints. This option will give a more flexible publication but would require to define the best approach along with the Helpdesk.

Which option is best for you?

There is no unique answer to this, but there are a few questions that might help guide the initial decision to begin publishing using OpenSpending.

For example,

  • Has your government implemented a Financial Management Integrated System in which budget and spending are registered?
  • Are budget and spending data stored in different systems?
  • Is there any human intervention to consolidate the budget and/or spending data?
  • How often does the government present spending reports to the legislature? Does the system allow this periodic data extraction?
  • Does the country have historical data on budget and spending? How far in time is it available either in systems or in stored files?
  • Do you follow any standardised publication patterns at the moment?

If you’re interested in pushing for better publication, please contact us, we’re happy to help. Our Helpdesk can be reached at openspending-support@okfn.org.

 

 

 

[1] Pattanayal, Sailendra. Expenditure Control: Key Features, Stages, and Actors Prepared by Sailendra Pattanayak Fiscal Affairs Department. International Monetary Fund, 2016.

Announcing the Fiscal Data Helpdesk

- March 12, 2019 in Open Knowledge

Having data for budgets and spending can allow us to track public money flows in our communities. It can give us insights into how governments plan and focus on programmes, public works, and services. So the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), along with Open Knowledge International (OKI), have been working on new tools to make this data more useful and easier to understand. Two of these are the [Open] Fiscal Data Package (OFDP) specification and OpenSpending platform. The OFDP is a data specification that allows publishers to create a literal package of data. This package includes fiscal data mapped onto either standardised or bespoke functional, economic and administrative classifications. Additionally, the different stages of the budget can be mapped, and other fields that are relevant to the publisher. This seeks to reduce the barriers to accessing and interpreting fiscal open data. One of the main benefits of the OFDP is that data publishers can adopt it no matter how they generate their databases. The flexibility of this specification allows publishers to improve the quality incrementally. There is no need to develop new software. Having this structured data allows us to build tools and services over it for visualization, analysis or comparison. The second tool is actually a set of tools called OpenSpending. This is an open-source and a community-driven project. It reflects the valuable contributions of an active, passionate and committed community. OpenSpending enables analysis, dissemination, and debates for more efficient budgets and public spending. It allows anyone to create, use, and visualize fiscal data using the Open Fiscal Data Package in a centralized place with small effort. As part of this collaboration, OKI and GIFT have been working with different government partners to publish using OFDP. But we want to see the adoption of the Open Fiscal Data Package grow even more. This is why we have set up the Fiscal Data Helpdesk to help you in the publication process!  

How to engage with the Fiscal Data Helpdesk

  Maybe you are already publishing fiscal data through an open data portal? Or maybe you have a platform and want to make it more useful for a larger number of users? Perhaps you have heard about standardization but it sounds complex and you think it might not be for your office? The Helpdesk is around to answer all your questions and support you through the process of getting data up and running in OpenSpending. There are a few good examples of what we want you to get doing. We’ve worked with the Mexican federal government to publish their data from 2008 to 2019 using the OFDP and OpenSpending to make it easier to access. You can navigate their data here. We’ve also worked to get datasets from many countries in the World bank BOOST initiative on OpenSpending. Currently, there are data from countries like Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In the coming weeks, we will publish some resources and a series of blog posts to give you more information about publishing your data in OFDP and using OpenSpending. Interested? You can visit OpenSpending or send us an email at openspending-support@okfn.org. We will get back to you to help get your budgets out in the open!

These are the grantees of the Open Data Day 2019 mini-grant scheme!

- February 21, 2019 in ODD2019, Open Data Day, open data day 2019

Open Data Day is an important date for a broad community that works for a more open world, where information can benefit more people.  To support the efforts made by different groups and organizations on this day, we have developed the Open Data Day mini-grants, where, along with other organizations interested in having a more open world, we provide funds to events in different parts of the world. Since we started the mini-grant program we have seen a growing number of events with great ideas to make open data work for more people. Each of these organisations will receive $300 to cover for the different things they need to run their events. Without further ado, we present the mini-grant supported events for this year and their organizers.
  1. OpenStreetMap Catalá will go out to the streets to obtain accessibility data of the city and edit them on the map.
  2. Code for Columbus will leverage the city’s new open data portal as well as open data sources from the regional planning commission to gain insight into social problems in the city.
  3. Técnicas Rudas wants to disseminate the use of open datasets on the incidence of violence and criminality to map femicides at the municipal level for all of Mexico, as well as to visualize relationships with other types of violence such as kidnappings, robbery, or homicide.
  4. Open Knowledge Brasil / UG Wikimedia in Brazil will scrape several databases, create fully-described items with lots of props for all existing dams in Brazil on Wikidata after the Brumadinho dam disaster.
  5. YouthMappers Kenya and OpenStreetMap Kenya will have an introduction on what open data is, training on how to contribute to the OpenStreetMap project by working on an existing project in Kenya and finally how this data can be accessed and used in various sectors e.g. urban planning, agriculture etc.
  6. The Center for education and transparency will host a discussion with Serbian citizens, local government, media and civil society representatives on the subject of opening geospatial data in Serbian municipalities
  7. Code for Curitiba will train people to perform the collaborative data mapping of the city of Curitiba with real experiments.
  8. OpenStreetMap Taiwan and Wikimedia Taiwan will host a series of events to improve the geographic data quality of hospital education and woman related items on Wikidata and will add the corresponded geographic information on Wikidata for galleries, archives, libraries, and museums, hoping to make a map for GLAM in Taiwan.
  9. Open Data Delaware will use the day to progress on existing civic projects and to introduce the projects, as well as the ideas and key concepts of Open Data and transparency, to a broad audience from their local community.
  10. In Argentina, the Centro Latinoamericano de Derechos Humanos (CLADH), Fundación Nuestra Mendoza, the Journalism School of the Universidad Maza, and the Public Policy and Planning Direction of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo will work with youth to analyze data and identify how many women have official positions in different levels of government. They want to do a report on this.
  1. AfricArxiv wants to raise public awareness about the importance of science in French-speaking Africa (and Benin in particular) of joining the open science movement and getting involved in data openness.
  2. The Librarians at the Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) will make work with faculty members to demystify the concept of open data. They will present and discuss the way forward and advocate for the establishment of an open data repository at BUSE.
  3. The Association for the Promotion of Open Science in Haiti and Francophone Africa will sensitize the researchers of the University of Yaoundé I to adopt best practices of open research data.
  4. The Young Academy of Slovenia will gather people to raise awareness of the importance of sharing open data among young researchers from different scientific fields, from natural science to social sciences and humanities.
  5. Africatech will bring together researchers, biologists, environmentalists, professors, policy-makers and experts to discuss issues related to open science in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  6. Sociedad para la Ciencia Abierta y la Conservación de la Biodiversidad (SCiAC) in Costa Rica will develop a training workshop on the use of tools to release data. They will also train on coding to analyze data in environmental sciences to contribute to reproducibility and science teaching.
  7. HackBo and mutabiT want to bridge reproducible research and publishing techniques with data activism to create a booklet on those topics using the Panama Declaration on Open Science from the Global South, using such declaration as a use case, showcasing the Open Science tools and techniques for/from the Global South that we have been developing and using since 2014.
  8. Fundación Internet Bolivia.org is going to Create a collaborative repository of Bolivia’s social research databases as a backup to ensure its permanent availability and concentrate databases in one place.
  9. The Centro Latinoamericano de Investigaciones Sobre Internet in Venezuela will showcase the methods and resources of open science, showing them as a valid alternative for university students.
  10. Fundación Karisma will work to improve the quality of open biodiversity data available on citizen science platforms and create a campaign about the importance of these data for science and social action.
  1. The National University of Lesotho will discuss the use of data for sustainable development, focusing on gender equality and youth empowerment.
  2. The Committee for a Better New Orleans will host a game night for New Orleanians to “play mayor for a day” by balancing their city budget via BigEasyBudgetGame.com
  3. Safety First for Girls Outreach Foundation will Showcase a good example of how open data can bring positive change by sharing the learnings from Safety Report: Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in Zambia.
  4. iWatch Africa will explore how online data tools can use open data on violence and discrimination against women and girls in Ghana and to promote gender equality.
  5. Escuela de Fiscales will run a workshop to introduce people to open data, show impact cases and debate the best approach to engage people in the context of upcoming elections
  6. EldoHub will work with young people to equip them with knowledge on how they can leverage on open data/open government, find opportunities for meaningful employment (inclusive jobs for disadvantaged African youth) and how they can help local government to be more open for inclusive youth participation.
  7. Open Knowledge Colombia wants to demonstrate and to raise awareness on salary differences among genders in Colombia and start a debate on the rights and inequalities of women in the Colombian society through open data.
  8. NaimLab will work in the city of Chiclayo to decentralize the use of open data from the capital and foster the use with a community of activists and civil society organizations, promoting transparency of public information and generate follow-up from citizen participation.
  9. Economía Femini(s)ta wants to estimate the annual cost of menstrual management products per person in 2019 in Argentina and to make an infographic with such estimations.
  10. The Women Economic and Leadership Transformation Initiative (WELTI) will explore what role data plays with regards to women’s health with an emphasis on cancer.
  1. Abriendo Datos Costa Rica will track the status of public works that use public money in different parts of the country.
  2. BudgIT Foundation will work with grassroots organisations and other people to show how public allocated funds are spent for the benefit of Nigerians
  3. Datos Abiertos Medellín), Exploratorio Parque Explora will open public health data, diseases related with air quality, number of bicycle routes and trees planted versus main goal appearing in the Local Government Development Plan, and other public policy data related with air quality.
  4. Girolabs will bring the community together in an event investigate the last 10 years of funding of political parties from the Electoral Tribunal and the impact of the spending in publicity from the Tribunal to improve the participation in the elections.
  5. Datasketch will review the contracts of public servants in Colombia. By inferring their gender from their name, they will analyze gender salary gaps.
  6. ACCESA will gather the community to highlight the advancements of the agenda on Open Contracting in Costa Rica. They will share the Results for Costa Rica of the   Transparent Public Procurement Rating (TPPR), the guide for Open Data in Public Procurements and the new OGP commitment related to the implementation of OCDS.
  7. Connected Development will bring together data enthusiast with social workers, journalists, government officials, community-based organization (CBO), activists and youth, and share skills with them around using data to enhance their work.
  8. School of Data in Guatemala will create a space to learn skills about how to use public contracts data, guide participants through the data of the State’s Law for Public Procurement, in order to understand on how contracts are carried out in practice.
  9. SocialTIC will showcase and use public open data with a special focus on new data releases from Mexico City’s new administration and national public expenses.
  10. School of Data in Bolivia will introduce people to the basics of open data and open contracting, including talks to learn about cash flows and topics related to the use of public funds through the lenses of gender equality.
  Together with all the funders [The Open Contracting Program of Hivos, Mapbox, Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom,  the Latin American Initiative for Open Data (ILDA) and the Open Contracting Partnership ] for this years’ ODD mini-grants, Open Knowledge International wants to thank the community for all your applications. We encourage you all you register your event on the Open Data Day website. To those who were not successful on this occasion, we encourage you to participate next time the scheme is available. To the grantees, we say congratulations and we look forward to working with you and sharing your successful event with the community!  

Two new supporters join the Open Data Day mini-grant fund!

- February 4, 2019 in Open Data Day, open data day 2019

Open Data Day 2019 is closer each day! We’re excited to see the events map slowly coming together in different parts of the world. For those of you who are not familiar with the event, Open Data Day is the yearly event where we reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. To make sure some of those events have everything they need, we provide mini-grants to cover for some of the expenses of organising this kind of event. This year we started with the support of Hivos, Mapbox, Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom to provide mini-grants for organisers. As the open data movement evolves, we keep working to find new supporters for the mini-grants. For 2019, we’re happy to announce two new organisations supporting Open Data Day events: the Latin American Initiative for Open Data (ILDA) and the Open Contracting Partnership will provide support for different Open Data Day events on March 2! ILDA will provide funds to support specifically events that take place in countries in Latin America, without specific track limitation. Fabrizio Scrollini, CEO mentioned “At ILDA we’re very happy to join the enthusiasm of the data community focusing on the big issues of our region: equality, transparency and inclusion.” The Open Contracting Partnership will support events that put the open in public contracting and that explore the role of open contracting for key social issues from education, to health, to infrastructure. In keeping with a collaborative spirit, the OCP would love to see proposals that include different audiences, journalists or media; researchers, businesses, and would love to explore innovative ideas that rely not only on technology. These collaborations will bring even more life to the exciting Open Data Day events! Remember, the deadline for applications has been extended for February 10th at midnight CST. You can read more details here or apply directly here.  

Announcing the Open Data Day 2019 mini-grant scheme

- January 23, 2019 in Featured, Open Data Day, open data day 2019

Who is data for? Who gets to use it and for which reasons? Can data help social causes? If so, how? These are some of the questions that we are asking ourselves while we think about Open Data Day. We know that the answers to these questions may look very different depending on the context, the people involved and the cause that we are fighting for. That’s why for this year’s mini grant program we want the events supported to have a social justice component.

What is Open Data Day?

Open Data Day is the yearly event where we gather to reach out to new people and build new solutions to issues in our communities using open data. To make sure some of those events have everything they needed to be great for their communities, this year we have the support of Hivos, Mapbox, Frictionless Data for Reproducible Research and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom to provide mini-grants for the people organizing Open Data Day events. Now let me introduce you to this year’s tracks:
  • First, we have a track to Follow public money flows, particularly focusing on Open Contracting;
  • Then, we have the Open mapping track where we want to learn about the power of maps to develop better communities;
  • For the Open Science track, you can cover anything from open research data, to open access and how that fits in making science more relatable and useful for people;
  • Last but not least there is the Equal Development track, this topic can cover anything from SDG’s to using data at a very local level to give our community more agency on how it evolves.
For each of this tracks we want you to plan together and include a group that may benefit from open data but isn’t necessarily using it yet. This can be a women’s rights organization, a LGBT group, a school or university, maybe the children in your neighborhood. The possibilities are pretty broad and we want you to think and engage with different people that can benefit from using data.

Cool, so what are the mini-grants?

A mini-grant is a small fund of between $200-$300 for groups to organize Open Data Day events. Event organisers can only apply once and for just one category, so choose well.

How to apply for a mini grant

The application form will be open from today until February 3 at midnight (CST). In the application form we ask some context about where are you will organize it who is organizing it and want to plan to achieve with your Open Data Day event. We want you to explain why you want to work with certain group and how you will use the mini grant to improve your community.

There are some important things to be aware of:

  1. To all grants: We cannot fund government applications, whether national or local. We can only support civil society actions. We encourage governments to find their local groups and engage with them!
  2. For all tracks we have agreed with the supporters to prioritize applications from groups and organizations in the global South. We still encourage you to apply for a mini grant if you think that the funds will help you achieve the goals of your event wherever you are.
If you have any questions, you can reach out to the Network team. There’s also the Open Data Day google group, where you can connect with others interested in the events!  

Paris Peace Forum Hackathon: A new chance to talk about open data

- November 27, 2018 in Events, Open Data, Open Government Data, open-government, paris peace forum

A few weeks ago we had the chance to attend the first edition of the Paris Peace Forum. The goal of this new initiative is to exchange and discuss concrete global governance solutions. More than 10,000 people attended, 65 Heads of State and Government were present, and 10 international organizations leaders convened for those three days at La Grande Halle de La Villette.   In parallel, the Paris Peace Forum hosted a hackathon to find new approaches to different challenges proposed by four different organizations. Hosted by the awesome Datactivist team, during these three days we worked on: Transparency of international organizations budgets, Transparency of major international event budgets, Transparency of public procurement procedures and Communication of financial data to the public. We had an attendance of about 80 participants, both experts in different topics, students from France and people interested in collaborating on building solutions. The approach was simple: Let’s look at the problems and see what kind of data will be useful. Day one The first day of the hackathon we got to hear the challenges that each organization had for us. Then we form teams based on the interests of the participants. This left us with smaller teams that would get to work on their projects along with the mentors. On that first day we also had the presence of two Heads of State to talk about innovation and technology. The first day concluded with a few ideas of what we wanted to do as well as a better understanding of the data that we could use. Day two Day two was the most intense. The teams got to decide what their solution would be and build it, or at least get to a minimum viable product. This was no simple task. Some teams had a hard time deciding what kind of solution they wanted to build. Some teams made user personas and user stories, some authors looked at data and built their solutions from there and some others started from a very specific set of problems related to their challenge. By the end of this day the teams had to present their projects to the other teams as well as to the mentors with at least some advances on their final projects. ​Day three Day three was a day full of excitement, but also for the mentors since we had to take one final project to present on the main stage of the Paris Peace Forum. During the morning the teams tweaked and fixed their projects and prepared their pitches, then presented to the mentors. Selecting only one final project for each of the challenges was a challenge by itself. But in the end we ended up with four really great projects:
  • Contract Fit selected by Open State Foundation
  • Tackling Climate Change – selected by the World Bank
  • LA PORTE – selected by the Open Contracting Partnership
  • Know your chances – selected by ETALAB
Each of these teams presented their projects at the main stage of the Paris Peace Forum. You can see the video here. This was a really interesting first edition of a hackathon in such a high level event covering such important topics. I was really happy to see so much engagement from both participants and mentors. It was also great to see the amazing job that our hosts made at putting all this together. We expect to see this exercise of innovation become a crucial part of future instances of the Peace Forum.  

Open Washing: digging deeper into the tough questions

- October 25, 2018 in IODC, iodc18, Open Data, openwashing

This blog was written by James McKinney, Oscar Montiel and Ana Brandusescu For the second time in history, the International Open Data Conference (IODC) opened a space for us to talk about #openwashing. The insights from IODC16 have been brilliantly summarised by Ana Brandusescu, also a host of this year’s session. On this occasion, we dug deeper into some of the issues and causes of open washing. We expect and hope this to be a discussion we can have more than once every couple of years at a conference, so we invite you all to contact the authors and let us know your thoughts! In order to discuss open washing in a very limited time, we framed the discussion around Heimstädt’s paper from 2017. To go beyond data publication, we asked participants to think about four key questions:
  1. How does a particular context encourage or discourage open washing?
  2. How does openness serve, or not serve, non-technical communities?
  3. How is a lack of openness tied to culture?
  4. What is our role as civil society organization/infomediary or government in tackling open washing?
This last question was key to try and frame open washing as something beyond blaming one group or another as the sole culprit of this practice. To accommodate the large number of Spanish and English speakers, we split into two language groups. Here, we summarize the key points of each discussion.

English group

Lack of power

Participants described scenarios in which publishers lacked the power to publish (whether by design or not). For example, an international non-profit organization (INGO) receives donor funding to hire a local researcher. The INGO has an open data policy, but when you request the data collected by the researcher, the INGO refers you to the donor (citing intellectual property clauses of the funding agreement), who then refers you to the researcher (wishing to respect the embargo on an upcoming article). In short, the INGO has an open data policy, but it lacks the power to publish this data and others like it. In this and many other cases, the open data program limited itself to data the organization owns, without looking more comprehensively at how the organization manages intellectual property rights to data it finances, purchases, licenses, etc. Such scenarios become open washing when, whether deliberately or through negligence, a government fails to secure the necessary intellectual property rights to publish data of high value or of high interest. This risk is acute for state-owned enterprises, public-private partnerships, procured services and privatized services. Common examples relate to address data. For example, Canada Post’s postal code data is the country’s most requested dataset, but Canada’s Directive on Open Government doesn’t apply to Canada Post, as it’s a state-owned enterprise. Similarly, when the United Kingdom privatized the Royal Mail, it didn’t retain the postcode data as a public dataset. Besides limits to the application of open data policies, another way in which organizations lack power is with respect to their enforcement. To be effective, policies must have consequences for noncompliance. (See, for example, Canada’s Directive on Open Government.) One more way in which power is limited is less legal and more social. Few organizations take responsibility for failing to respect their open data principles, but acknowledging failure is a first step toward improvement. Similarly, few actors call out their own and/or others’ failures, which leads to a situation in which failures are silent and unaddressed. Opportunities:
  • Open data programs should consider the intellectual property management of not only the data an organization owns, but also the data it finances, purchases, licenses, etc.
  • Open data programs should extend to all of government, including state-owned enterprises, public-private partnerships, procured services and privatized services.
  • To be enforceable, open data policies must have consequences for noncompliance.

Lack of knowledge or capacity

Participants also described scenarios in which publishers lacked the knowledge or capacity to publish effectively. Data is frequently made open but not made useful, for lack of care for who might use it. For example, open by default policies can incentivize ‘dumping’ as much data as possible into a catalog, but opening data shouldn’t be ‘like taking trash out.’ In addition, few publishers measure quality or prioritize datasets for release with stakeholder input, in order to improve the utility of datasets. In many cases, public servants have good intentions and are working with limited resources to overcome these challenges, in which case they aren’t open washing. However, their efforts may be ‘washed’ by others. For example, a minister might over-sell the work, out of a desire to claim success after putting in substantial effort. Or, a ranking or an initiative like the Open Government Partnership might celebrate the work, despite its shortcomings – giving a ‘star’ for openness, without a real change in openness. Opportunities: Make rankings more resistant to open washing. For example, governments can read the assessment methodology of the Open Data Barometer and ‘game’ a high score. Is there a way to identify, measure and/or account for open washing within such methodologies? Are there any inspiring methods from, for example, fighting bid rigging?

Other opportunities

While the discussion focused on the areas above, participants shared other ideas to address open washing, including to:
  • Make it a common practice to disclose the reason a dataset is not released, so that it is harder for governments to quietly withhold a dataset from publication.
  • Balance advocacy with collaboration. For example, if a department is open washing, make it uncomfortable in public, while nurturing a working relationship with supportive staff in private, in order to push for true openness. That said, advocacy has risks, which may not be worth the reward in all cases of open washing.
 

Spanish group

Political discourse

Participants described how, in their countries, the discourse around openness came from the top-down and was led by political parties. In many cases, a political party formed government and branded its work and ways of working as ‘open’. This caused their efforts to be perceived as partisan, and therefore at greater risk of being reversed when an opposing party formed government.  This also meant that public servants, especially in middle and lower-level positions, didn’t see the possible outcomes of openness in their activities as an important part of their regular work, but as extra, politically-motivated work within their already busy schedules. Opportunities: Make openness a non-partisan issue. Encourage a bottom-up discourse.

Implementation challenges

Participants described many challenges in implementing openness:
  • A lack of technical skills and resources.
  • A focus on quantity over quality.
  • Governments seeing openness as an effort that one or two agencies can deliver, instead of as an effort that requires all agencies to change how they work.
  • Governments opening data only in ways and formats with which they are already familiar, and working only with people they already know and trust.
  • A fear of being judged.
Opportunities: Co-design data formats.  Author standardized manuals for collecting and publishing data.

The value of data

A final point was the lack of a broad appreciation that data is useful and important. As long as people inside and outside government don’t see its value, there will be little motivation to open data and to properly govern and manage it. Opportunities: Research government processes and protocols for data governance and management.  

Wrapping up

At IODC18, we created a space to discuss open washing. We advanced the conversation on some factors contributing to it, and identified some opportunities to address it. However, we could only touch lightly on a few of the many facets of open washing. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on these discussions and on open washing in general! You can contact us via Twitter or email:

A short story about Open Washing

- August 20, 2018 in IODC, iodc18, Open Data, Open Government Data, openwashing

Great news! The International Open Data Conference (IODC) accepted my proposal about Open Washing. The moment I heard this I wanted to write something to invite everyone to our session. It will be a follow-up to the exchange we had during IODC in 2015. First a couple disclaimers: This text is not exactly about data. Open Washing is not an easy conversation to have. It’s not a comfortable topic for anyone, whether you work in government or civil society. Sometimes we decide to avoid it (I’m looking at you, OGP Summit!). To prepare this new session I went through the history of our initial conversation. I noticed that my awesome co-host, Ana Brandusescu summarised everything here. I invite you to read that blogpost and then come back. Or keep reading and then read the other post. Either way, don’t miss Ana’s post. What comes next is a story. I hope this story will illustrate why these uncomfortable conversations are important. Second disclaimer: everything in this story is true. It is a fact that these things happened. Some of them are still happening. It is not a happy story, and I’m sorry if some people might feel offended by me telling it. There was once a country that had a pretty young democracy. That country was ruled by one political party for 70 years and then, 18 years ago decided it was enough. Six years ago, that political party came back. They won the presidential election. How this happened is questionable but goes beyond the reach of this story right now. When this political party regained power the technocrats thought this was good news. Some international media outlets thought the new president would even “save” the country. The word “save” may sound like too much but there was a big wave of violence that had built from previous years. Economic development was slow and social issues were boiling. There was a big relationship of this to corruption in many levels of government. In this context, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The president’s office decided to make open government a priority. Open data would be a tool to promote proactive transparency and economic development. They signed all the international commitments they could. They chaired international spaces for everything transparency related. They set up a team with young and highly prepared professionals to turn all this into reality. But then, the tunnel seemed to extend and the light seemed dimmer. In spite of these commitments some things that weren’t supposed to happen, happened. Different journalistic researches found out what seemed like acts of corruption. A government contractor gave the president 7 million dollar house during the campaign. The government awarded about 450 million USD in irregular contracts. Most of these contracts didn’t even result in actual execution of works or delivery of goods. They spied on people from the civil society groups that collaborated with them. 45 journalists, who play a big role in this story, were murdered in the last 6 years. For doing their job. For asking questions that may be uncomfortable for some people. There is a lot more to the story but I will leave it here. That doesn’t mean it ends here. It’s still happening. It seems like this political party doesn’t care about using open washing anymore. They don’t care anymore because they’re leaving. But we should care because we stay. We need to talk and discuss this in the open. The story of this country, my country, is very particular and surreal but holds a lot of lessons. This is probably the worst invitation you’ve ever received. But I know there are a lot of lessons and knowledge out there. So if you are around, come to our session during IODC. If you’re not, talk about this issue where you live. Or reach out to others who might be interested. It probably won’t be comfortable but you will for sure bring a new perspective to your work. This is also an invitation to try it.

CKANconUS and Code for America Summit: some thoughts about the important questions

- June 20, 2018 in ckan, code for america, Events, OK US, USA

It’s been a few weeks after CKANConUS and the seventh Code for America Summit took place in Oakland. As always, it was a great place to meet old friends and new faces of technologists, policy experts, government innovators in the U.S. In this blogpost I share some of the experience of attending these two conferences and a few thoughts I’ve been ruminating about the discussions that happened, and more importantly, those that didn’t happen. CKAN is an open source open data portal platform that Open Knowledge International developed several years ago. It has been used and reused by many governments and civil society organizations around the world. For CKANconUS, the OK US group, led by Joel Natividad organized a one day event with different users and implementers of CKAN around the United States. We had the California based LA Counts, gathering data from the 88 cities in the County of Los Angeles; the California Data Collaborative working to improve water management decisions. We also had some interesting presentations from the GreenInfo Network and the California Natural Resources Agency. And we had the chance to hear about the awesome process of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center to choose CKAN as its platform and how they maintain the project (presentation included LEGOs in every slide). On the more technical side, David Read, Ian Ward and our own Adrià Mercader talked about the new versions of CKAN, the Express Loader and the Technical Roadmap for CKAN, 11 years after its development started. You can view the slides by Adrià Mercader on the CKAN Technical Roadmap overview here. We closed with some great lightning talks about datamirror.org to ensure access to federal research data and Human Centered Design and what Amanda Damewood learned about working in government in improving these processes. The next two days in the Code for America Summit were full of interesting talks about building tools, innovating in our processes and making government work for people in a better way. There were some interesting keynote speakers as well as breakout sessions where we discussed the process to build certain projects and how we can rethink how we engage in our communities. I would like highlight two mainstage talks about collaboration (or the difficulty of such) between government and civil society. The first is a talk and panel about disasters in Puerto Rico, Houston and cities in Florida, where some key points were raised about the importance of having accurate, verifiable and usable information in these cases, as well as the importance of having a network of people who are willing to help their peers. The second is the presentation Code for Asheville presented, regarding their issues with homelessness and police data. This isn’t necessarily what you would call a success story but Sabrah n’haRaven made a great point about working with social issues: “Trust effective communities to understand their own problems”. This may sound like a given in the work we do when working with data and building things with it, but it’s something that we need to keep in mind. Using this line of thought, it seems crucial to keep these conversations going. We need to understand our communities, be aware that there are policies that go against the rights of people to live a fulfilling life and we need to change that. I hope for the next CfA Summit and CKANConUS we can try to find some answers to these questions collectively.

CKANconUS and Code for America Summit: some thoughts about the important questions

- June 20, 2018 in ckan, code for america, Events, OK US, USA

It’s been a few weeks after CKANConUS and the seventh Code for America Summit took place in Oakland. As always, it was a great place to meet old friends and new faces of technologists, policy experts, government innovators in the U.S. In this blogpost I share some of the experience of attending these two conferences and a few thoughts I’ve been ruminating about the discussions that happened, and more importantly, those that didn’t happen. CKAN is an open source open data portal platform that Open Knowledge International developed several years ago. It has been used and reused by many governments and civil society organizations around the world. For CKANconUS, the OK US group, led by Joel Natividad organized a one day event with different users and implementers of CKAN around the United States. We had the California based LA Counts, gathering data from the 88 cities in the County of Los Angeles; the California Data Collaborative working to improve water management decisions. We also had some interesting presentations from the GreenInfo Network and the California Natural Resources Agency. And we had the chance to hear about the awesome process of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center to choose CKAN as its platform and how they maintain the project (presentation included LEGOs in every slide). On the more technical side, David Read, Ian Ward and our own Adrià Mercader talked about the new versions of CKAN, the Express Loader and the Technical Roadmap for CKAN, 11 years after its development started. You can view the slides by Adrià Mercader on the CKAN Technical Roadmap overview here. We closed with some great lightning talks about datamirror.org to ensure access to federal research data and Human Centered Design and what Amanda Damewood learned about working in government in improving these processes. The next two days in the Code for America Summit were full of interesting talks about building tools, innovating in our processes and making government work for people in a better way. There were some interesting keynote speakers as well as breakout sessions where we discussed the process to build certain projects and how we can rethink how we engage in our communities. I would like highlight two mainstage talks about collaboration (or the difficulty of such) between government and civil society. The first is a talk and panel about disasters in Puerto Rico, Houston and cities in Florida, where some key points were raised about the importance of having accurate, verifiable and usable information in these cases, as well as the importance of having a network of people who are willing to help their peers. The second is the presentation Code for Asheville presented, regarding their issues with homelessness and police data. This isn’t necessarily what you would call a success story but Sabrah n’haRaven made a great point about working with social issues: “Trust effective communities to understand their own problems”. This may sound like a given in the work we do when working with data and building things with it, but it’s something that we need to keep in mind. Using this line of thought, it seems crucial to keep these conversations going. We need to understand our communities, be aware that there are policies that go against the rights of people to live a fulfilling life and we need to change that. I hope for the next CfA Summit and CKANConUS we can try to find some answers to these questions collectively.