Treasure trove
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It has been almost two years since the OpenSpending project was set up by the Open Knowledge Foundation, sparked by the launch of Where Does Your Money Go, which focuses on how taxes are used by the UK government.

The idea then moved to Germany, where Offener Haushalt was set up, before the decision was made to offer a central platform for "mapping the money" which could help spread the resource further around the world.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia last week, Friedrich Lindenberg, who worked on the project and is also a Knight Mozilla OpenNews fellow at Spiegel Online, said the data covers two main areas, with "high-level budgetary information" on the one hand, and "fine-grain transactional data" on the other.

The platform can be used in a number of different ways, as the website outlines. Those with data to share from across the world can upload it to the site, explore existing datasets provided by others, and create map visualisations.

In a presentation, given during a School of Data session at the International Journalism Festival, Lindenberg explained that the idea is also to offer a "reusable infrastructure that can be replicated".

There is also, therefore, an "assembly kit" 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.

The idea is to bring it down to one common format, to basically establish a common language between everyone who's trying to look at government financeFriedrich Lindenberg, Open Knowledge Foundation
Lindenberg told Journalism.co.uk that the platform provides "a standard API for financial data", meaning that "everyone can upload a csv file to the site and it then becomes available via a standard interface".

"That means you can run all the visualisations and all the types of analysis that have been done before on your data, but it also means that once you develop new visualisations or a new statistical analysis of the data, that it immediately becomes available to most other people who use the platform.

"So the idea is to bring it down to one common format, to basically establish a common language between everyone who's trying to look at government finance."

The key demographics of people with an interest in the site are what Lindenberg described as the "magic triangle" of technologists, activists and journalists.

But in his presentation during the School of Data session, Lindenberg said more needs to be done to make journalists aware of resources such as OpenSpending.

"We have a lot of fantastic resources in here and it's hardly even used by journalists," he said. Firstly, the platform is "not visible enough to journalists" and secondly, for some of the data a certain level of "technical understanding" may be required "to be able to tell what questions we can answer with it".

The resources that we are creating are in a way treasure troves, but people feel that they've already been looted because they stand out in the open. Know there are still treasures in thereFriedrich Lindenberg, Open Knowledge Foundation
He also said there is a "miss-assumption that if something is on the web already then there's no stories in there any more".

"The resources that we are creating are in a way treasure troves, but people feel that they've already been looted because they stand out in the open. Know there are still treasures in there, even though they're standing out in the open. It's just that no one has opened the box."

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk he added there are "all kinds of stories" available via OpenSpending, including the recent addition of data collected by FarmSubsidy.org. "That has generated an enormous amount of stories," Lindenberg said.

And as well as providing technology and databases through platforms like OpenSpending, initiatives like the School of Data have been put in place by the Open Knowledge Foundation and European Journalism Centre to try "to bring very basic data-analysis skills both to journalists and to activists".

He added that within "the OpenSpending community" there are "lots of people waiting to help journalists to do stuff".

"So if you join a community and you have a good idea and you basically can tell us enough about it so we can get excited, then there's people there who'd help you do your investigation, do your analysis.

"I think that's fantastic when you don't have to learn every single skill or deal with big data or all these kind of challenges, but you can basically just find a community of people who are already interested in this topic and who want to help you."

Below is a video of the full data journalism session on collaboration across borders, which Lindenberg spoke on, filmed by the International Journalism Festival. Journalism.co.uk also produced a round-up of the session and the power of collaboration.

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