4th IODC

Blog IODC 2016
Madrid. October 6-7, 2016

#IODC16

Once you can #FollowTheMoney you need to find ways for citizens to #LeadTheWay

June 5, 2015 by IODC

A guest post by Eva Constantaras on the Data + Public Money panel at IODC15. 

Together the open data community has come together to #followthemoney and liberate the data needed to stamp out corruption. Now they are finding out how to get citizens to #leadtheway.

Understanding how public money is spent is a fundamental goal for many open data projects. You could go so far as to say that how public money is spent has been at the heart of much open data advocacy. But the release of data alone doesn’t automatically create the citizen engagement and accountability that open government advocates are seeking. Beyond making data available, next step is to get people to care and to act with it. To work on connecting data and action:

  • Bond launched the Aid Attitude Tracker to get citizens of the United Kingdom to pay attention to how development aid is being spent.
  • La Nación of Argentina crowd-sourced the manual entry of MP expenses through scrapathons to raise awareness of government corruption.
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation trains CSOs in the use of the Global Open Data Index.
  • Open Data Lab Jakarta produce infographics that run in local media to bring fiscal data to citizens.
  • The Slovak Open Government Partnership created opendatanode.org to engage stakeholders in open data publication & exchange in Slovakia.
  • Reboot tries to get inside the heads of government officials to figure out what threats and opportunities exist to push a data-driven policy agenda.

All of these groups faced a common challenge. They had liberated the data, but nobody was using it. Whether their target users were citizens, civil society or government, data dissemination was not happening. The experiences below show some of the different strategies groups have taken:

As Mor Rubenstein of the Open Knowledge Foundation explained, after going through all the trouble of tracking down elusive spending data, their user base never fully materialized. The Open Data Index is crowdsourced from civil society and seeks to assess the quality of open data supply in order to bridge the gap between what civil society wants to see, and what government wants to offer, in terms of spending data.  But despite a design based on user-input, uptake has been low: “Budget data can be difficult and boring so hard to engage citizens in analyzing data.”

When bridging the gap between budget data supply and demand using the media is often an important part of a full strategy, and intermediary tools can help journalists to dig into otherwise impenetrable datasets. Jan Gondol, part of the team workong on Slovakia Open Government Partnership Action Plan, explained how in Slovakia government bodies and private companies are publishing their financial data, and civic hackers are analyzing that contractual data and tipping off journalists to potential stories to investigate. Facilitating that process is Open Data Note, an open source tool that allows the exploration of both public and private through a user-friendly interface that can be used internally or externally. Even so, they realize the need to further pilot the tool and involve a range of different intermediaries between techies and the public.

La Nación of Argentina turned that process on its head. Inspired by the Guardian’s MP Expenses app, it enlisted 1,000 volunteers from universities and civil society in a gamified series of ‘scrape-a-thons’ to open 10,000 PDFs worth of senate expenses in a project called Voz Data (Voice Data).  Following the success of that project, Flor Coelho explained that they are now crowd-sourcing tagging of audio-files surrounding the controversial death of a public prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who accused Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of an Iranian bomb cover-up. The idea is not only free labor through micro-tasking, but a public that sees a role for itself in accountability.

Eko Prasetyo from Open Data Lab Jakarta explained they face the constant challenge of low awareness among CSOs regarding data; methods for submitting freedom of information requests and tapping into open data channels.  Their system to overcome these barriers include identifying transparency champions, mentoring and training these groups, monitoring their individual projects, learning and evaluating results and ensuring that findings come out not only online but also in traditional print media to get the message out.

Reboot struggled to convince the Nigerian government to release and use data to fix its own public spending problem.  Panthea Lee explained that after coming to understand that a lot of procurement is driven by trust networks to overcome weak capacity and financial insecurity, Reboot was able to develop data visualizations to help government understand how they could improve spending processes and economic planning in that context.  Achieving culture meant proving to a couple of ministries that data could help them reach their immediate public service priorities.

Together the open data community has come together to #followthemoney and liberate the data needed to stamp out corruption. Now they are finding out how to get citizens to #leadtheway.

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