OpenSpending: A global community, mapping our money from streetlights to international aid

Encouraged by the success of their UK based platform, Where Does My Money Go? - which focuses on how taxes are being spent by the UK government - and German based OffenerHaushalt, Open Knowledge International launched the OpenSpending project in March 2011.

OpenSpending, a global community driven platform, is the largest open database of public financial information - like budgets, spending, balance sheets, and procurement - in the world today. The data that the OpenSpending project covers falls under two main areas - ‘high-level budgetary information’, and ‘fine-grain transactional data’. The OpenSpending platform currently has 66 countries, 732 datasets, and over 25 million entries registered on its database.

The OpenSpending platform allows a visitor to see which money goes where at a glance, and then click through to explore more data about a given aspect of spending. OpenSpending is an open data sharing community, and web application, that aims to track every government and corporate financial transaction across the world and to present that data in a useful and engaging form.

OpenSpending was created to help citizens, civil society organisations and journalists track and analyse public financial information globally. Apart from being a powerful tool for citizen engagement, it can be used to improve government transparency and accountability effectively. The use of visualisations derived from open budget and spending data can also drive government data release at a local level. A good example is OffenerHaushalt in Germany. To date, the OffenerHaushalt team have received more than 90 requests for similar sites in Germany at different levels of government, often from government officials themselves.

The platform itself can be used in a number of different ways, as the OpenSpending website outlines. Anyone with data to share from across the world can upload it to the site, explore existing datasets provided by others, and create map visualisations. The platform also offers a "reusable infrastructure that can be replicated", and an assembly kit is available so users can set up their "own budget monitoring site", such as has already been done in Moldova with Budget Stories or the Cameroon Budget Inquirer.

A number of CSOs and citizens have also made use of OpenSpending to serve specific visualisation needs outside the realm of pure budget and spending transparency. Examples range from Fundacja Normalne Miasto Fenomen, Poland, who used OpenSpending to visualise data on transportation spending for the city of Łódź in order to advance their environmental agenda, to visualisation of the UN-Habitat data on Urban Development, and the collaboration of Open Knowledge International and Publish What You Fund, to provide the first consolidated view of the budget of Uganda, including income from aid flows, which form a substantial part of the revenue flows for Uganda. Even the government of Uganda had previously not had access to this information.

Open Knowledge Interntional’s work visualising government spending also helped secure the release of the ‘COINS’ database, and other transaction level spending data, which remains the most detailed government spending data ever released. ‘The Daily Bread’ from the ‘Where Does My Money Go?’ website has made regular appearances on the Guardian Datablog around budget time in the UK. The OpenSpending platform has also been used and covered extensively by media organisations around the world, including the BBC, Guardian, Le Monde, La Stampa and Wired. OpenSpending is widely cited as one of the leading examples of how open data can be used to increase government transparency, including by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and open movement champion Tim O’Reilly.

In 2013, Open Knowledge International also launched the Spending Stories project. The Spending Stories project aims to facilitate journalists by speeding up fact-checking around spending data as well as connecting news stories about public spending to relevant datasets and visualisations to put these stories into context. The OpenSpending team also conduct regular training sessions for journalists and NGOs on how to locate, extract, work with and visualise budget, spending and other types of data.

The OpenSpending community includes engaged citizens, dedicated journalists and members of civil society organisations working on developing the best practices around opening up and using government financial data, along with experts from a wide range of fields - including aid, participatory budgeting, governmental institutions and civic developer initiatives. The OpenSpending working group is open to everyone with an interest in improving Government Financial Transparency around the world.

 

Snapshots of Global Impact

Nepal

Having only launched in 2013, OpenSpending is relatively new in Nepal. However, in the short period of time since the Nepalese team have been working on the project it has gained a lot of traction from both Government officials and citizens.

In 2013, Open Knowledge Nepal held three separate Spending parties - in July, September, and December - which led to the launch of the beta version of Nepal’s own spending platform, Openspendingnepal.org, during the 2014 Open Data Day.

Manish Dangol, Project coordinator for OpenSpending Nepal, explains the importance of such a platform in Nepal:

“Our first aim is to give the right information about budget and Government spending to our citizens. At the moment most of our budget is not spent wisely. And, for things like foreign aid which comes to Nepal, we don't really know where all that money goes. We don't think that the money is spent in the right places, or goes to the people its supposed to aid. This is why we are working to put as much of that data on our OpenSpending website so that people can know what is happening with their money.”

Manish Dangol. Open Spending Nepal

Work done during the spending parties ranged from converting PDF documents into machine readable formats and extracting the data, entering Nepalese budget and spending data on the main OpenSpending site, producing interactive visualisations, tackling tough language issues as documents were not published in nepali unicode, and working on providing Nepali translations to explain the data visualisations. Dangol feels that data visualisations produced through such spending parties can be extremely useful for citizens to understand their Government better.

“During one of the spending parties we worked with the Kathmandu budget data. Even though we are residents of Kathmandu we did not know much about the Kathmandu budget before that. When we finalised our work and managed to visualise some of the data, even we were surprised with our findings, that such and such a part of the budget is being spent in such and such a place, like cultural heritage, roads, schools etc.. We now know where most of the budget money is going. It is the platform to not only learn about the budget, but also about your Government and your city,” 

Manish Dangol. Open Spending Nepal

Since the launch of the OpenSpending Nepal platform on Open Data Day 2014, there has been a very good response from the general public. Volunteers have also increased and the local OpenSpending team is planning an expansion of activity and projects.

“On Open Data Day when we launched openspendingnepal.org a lot of people showed interest and asked questions. In terms of community growth, we have had many people approach us - asking more about OpenSpending, how they can contribute and join us as volunteers. It’s definitely growing fast. We are excited about expanding and the future possibilities,”

Manish Dangol. Open Spending Nepal

The launch of the OpenSpending Nepal platform has also seen an increase in engagement from the Nepalese Government. After Open Knowledge Nepal’s Open Data Day activities some Government authorities have even promised to help the team obtain important datasets they have been requesting for some time. Consequently, Dangol feels that the OpenSpending Nepal team should now find opening up local budget and spending data easier than in the initial stages and that they will be able to accelerate the project. Discussions have also been planned with local authorities on opening up more budget and spending data in Nepal.

“After the success of our events on Open Data Day, we are planning a meeting for OpenSpending to discuss what our next steps are, what we are going to advise the Government on, and how we can visualise the data so that it can be more helpful to the general public. We now feel even more motivated, and are going to advise and work with the new Government to open up all budget and spending data in Nepal,”

Manish Dangol. Open Spending Nepal

 

Japan

In July 2012, Open Knowledge Japan launched its first hackathon with an aim to encourage local developers to use government data to address important social issues, such as the need for transparent public spending, public project monitoring and others. During the two day hackathon a small team formed around building a ‘Where Does My Money Go?’ (WDMMG) site for Yokohama city  to promote transparency and citizen engagement through the analysis and visualisation of data about the city’s public spending.

Since the first release of the first WDMMG site for Yokohama city, OpenSpending Japan has had an excellent response from both citizens and Government officials, and has also seen a rapid community growth around its activities. Within a year the number of participating cities for spending.jp had risen to 19, and it currently (May 2014) stands at an impressive 132 cities.

National media outlets such as Nikkei, Asahi and NHK have also widely covered various WDMMG activities - such as Open Knowledge Japan’s activities in the 2013 global City Spending Party - as a part of the growing open data movement in Japan. Participants at the spending parties have also made several contributions to the OpenSpending codebase, and have helped make the OpenSpending Satellite site more user friendly by adding several new features.

Hiroichi Kawashima, Co-founder of Open Knowledge Japan, and Special Advisor to the local Government of Saga in Japan, explains how the OpenSpending movement initially started flourishing in the region.

“Our initial work interested many engineers and IT people, mainly who wanted to use their skills for social good. Government officials were rarely involved. When we managed to produce the spending.jp platform it stimulated the media - newspapers and TV broadcasting centers - to cover our activities and ideas. This helped in increasing citizen engagement. Soon the local Government officials and policy makers also started to pay attention and acknowledge the impact and significance of the work done and discussing how they can implement some of our ideas into their structure. In the last six months especially, I have noticed that some very active local government officials are leading their cities ‘Where does my Money go?’,”

Hiroichi Kawashima, Co-founder of Open Knowledge Japan

Kawashima continued that it was the initial hard work and dedication of the OpenSpending Japan team that helped establish and spread the word about the spending.jp platform. They had to initially start with hundreds of paper based copies that the local officials had provided them with - scanning them, converting them and categorising them. Afterwards, when more cities started joining, and the number of volunteers grew, the coordinators worked well to encourage and guide their progress.

“In 2013, Hal Seki, who was coordinating our OpenSpending activities, wrote a blog post explaining how people can easily set up versions for their own cities. This made people more enthusiastic and they started implementing it for their own cities. The coordinators also did a tremendous job guiding people in setting these up and helping them out with their technical difficulties. Currently, we have 132 cities in Japan using the ‘Where does my Money go?’ platform to visualise their local government budgets and expenditure,”

Hiroichi Kawashima, Co-founder of Open Knowledge Japan

Kawashima believes that the use of interactive visuals to illustrate budget and spending information encouraged citizens to get involved, and aided the rapid growth of the community. He also pointed to the many activities held by Open Knowledge Japan as one of the main reasons why so many IT engineers, civil society activists, city officials, journalists, politicians and academics have joined the growing OpenSpending community, and become enthusiastic about spreading WDMMG across Japan. Hal Seki, CEO of Georepublic Japan, and Coordinator of OpenSpending Japan, explains the impact of these activities further.

“Through the events we held on Open Data Day in 2013, and the spending parties over the last year, I feel we have built a very diverse and engaged community around open data in Japan. The events and our trainings introduced them to and helped them to better understand how a platform like spending.jp works, and the impact it can have socially. Through these events we have managed to encourage many people to build similar platforms for their own cities and help engage citizens in their local Government’s spending process.”

Hiroichi Kawashima, Co-founder of Open Knowledge Japan

The OpenSpending Japan team now hope to build on the work done in the spending parties by collaborating with the global OpenSpending team and taking on some of the more challenging issues - like exploring how to harmonise Japanese budget classifications with international standards like COFOG, in order to make the categories more universal.

 

Burkina Faso

On the 22nd of February, international Open Data Day, Open Knowledge Burkina Faso organised a large scale event with various presentations on open government, open parliament, transit data, and data journalism, and also hosted data expeditions on gold revenue, energy supply data and public budgets, which marked the launch of Open Spending activities in the country.

During the data expedition held around Burkina Faso’s budget data, participants downloaded PDF copies of budget documents available on Government sites, then converted them to machine readable formats and extracted the data using open source online tool Tabula. The data was then cleaned up and published on CKAN powered, africaopendata.org, and contributions were also made to the main OpenSpending site. Idriss Tinto, Ambassador for Open Knowledge Burkina Faso, explains that, though limited, there was an immediate impact of the work done.

“Those who have used the OpenSpending website in Burkina Faso say that they understand the budget better now, especially because of the visualisations we did which make it easy to grasp for the public. However, we still need to open up more data to do better analyses and visualisations. This what we are working on,”

Idriss Tinto, Ambassador for Open Knowledge Burkina Faso

Tinto also feels that through their activities on Open Data Day an awareness has been raised in Burkina Faso about the value of open data, and that their work is now appreciated more generally. He said that the local Open Knowledge Burkina Faso team was looking forward to working with the growing community to open up more data in the country.

“Through our activities with the Open Knowledge Network we have managed to raise awareness here. We notice that when we talk about open data many people want to know more, and generally they are excited to see what we can do with the data. As we have opened more data, we have also had a lot of positive feedback from people, some of whom are from outside the open data community. Many people - including civil society organisations and journalists - are also very interested to work with us to improve the state of open knowledge here. The community is slowly growing. It is a good start,”

Idriss Tinto, Ambassador for Open Knowledge Burkina Faso

 

Nigeria

Lagos is the financial capital of Nigeria and one of the three states in country which puts its budget online. Its financials in terms of expenditure, revenue and debt over the last years has also been available online for citizens to access. As part of OpenSpending's first global City Spending Data Party, held from July 19th to 21st 2013, budget experts and engaged citizens gathered in Lagos for the spending party hosted by Open Knowledge Nigeria and the visualisation team at BudgIT, a civic startup which aims to use digital technologies to make government budgets more accessible and understandable to all Nigerians.

Participants at the Spending Party set out to compare several years of expenditure and revenue data from the city and present it through visualisations as an ongoing approach to make data more friendly, accessible and transparent for all citizens across the literacy span. The team also used the time to code a tool, OpenLagos, that will help other to build more visualisations using data stored in OpenSpending. The BudgetIT team are currently working to build a third party solution that can be scaled across board.

The BugetIT team are also working in collaboration with Open Knowledge International to integrate OpenSpending’s visualization platform with BudgIT’s upcoming project, Tracka, a budget tracking platform. Tracka is a social platform of active citizens who are interested in tracking budgets and public projects in their community. Layered on open data and also integrated with existing social media tools, this platform aims to bring people of common interests together and use the power of open data to improve government services.

Oluseun Onigbinde, Knight International Journalism Fellow, and Founder of BudgIT, is also the Ambassador for Open Knowledge, Nigeria. Onigbinde began his career in the financial sector providing critical analysis of budgets and strategic research to help banks perform better. Later, he decided to apply these same principles to improving his country. He set up BudgetIT with the aim of providing the general public with tools for budget analysis and creative ways to present and disseminate budget data. Open Knowledge International has been working in close collaboration with BudgetIT for the last couple of years.

“My organization, BudgIT, needed to seek extra collaborations especially in pulling resources in doing open data applications in Nigeria. We have worked together with Open Knowledge International on capacity building programs, and have also organized data mining sessions, deployed CKAN portals, worked on visualizing Nigeria’s contract data, held hackathons and other sessions. I am glad to be part of this. BudgIT, my startup, is proud to collaborate with Open Knowledge International in order to further energise citizens' engagement with government.”

Oluseun Onigbinde, Knight International Journalism Fellow, and Founder of BudgIT

Onigbinde also spoke about Open Knowledge International's role generally in the Nigerian open data movement in recent years.

“Open Knowledge International has been impressive in sustaining the open data culture in this country. Engaging with institutions here to adopt an open data approach has been tough. It is also difficult to get detailed actual releases for capital projects, which is limiting the ability of people to track those projects. One of the biggest successes for open knowledge, especially in terms of time and resources used, is data conversion from non-readable formats - like PDF in which the local Government release their data - to machine-readable structures. Opening up information throws up more debate within a society, and reveals the patches of corruption. If no one knows what goes on in government and citizens are handed a fuzzy narrative, the incentive to steal funds is high. When we open up information about the flow of public funds, we strengthen the social contract, and deepen the trust between the electorate and the leader,"

Oluseun Onigbinde, Knight International Journalism Fellow, and Founder of BudgIT