Opening local budget data
The South African National Treasury is in the process of opening municipal financial data to make it widely available in order to increase visibility and strengthen civic participation. How awesome is that?
Code for South Africa is all about open data and are assisting The National Treasury in the process. In doing so, we aim to provide civil society, media organisations, researchers and citizens with the information they need in order to promote transparency within government and hold government to account.
To do this we first needed to look at the data to see what this entails. If you want to take a look too, here is the API that we are in the process of developing. This will assist to facilitate programmatic access to this vast data.
Open data is awesome, but doesn’t really serve a purpose when no one but data wranglers and statisticians can understand it. To overcome this we create tools and visulisations that contexualises the data in a format that everyone can understand. In this format, we can introduce what is happening in finance to civil society and encourage active citizen participation.
To get this process started we first needed to understand the problem space in full. What data is the most valuable and important to the public? How do we go about instilling trust in the system with this data? How best to we present this data? The list goes on….
To dig deeper, we hosted three Accountability Stacks - workshops where we ask civil society for their input on various issues - across three cities: Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Here civil society organisations, journalists and representatives from National Treasury to help us unpack how best to use the data, how to drive the improvements of municipal performance and hold government to account. The result of these workshops assisted us in narrowing things down, by framing focus areas for the massive data sets.
We then needed to take a bit of time to explore possible solutions. To open this process up further, we hosted three dataquests. These events encouraged people to work together in teams and delve deeper into the focus areas that surfaced from the accountability stacks. During the dataquest, the #munifinance hashtag trended on Twitter all day, proving again how important and noteworthy this process is.
The outputs of these events ranged from data-driven stories to visualisations, prototype apps and even more targeted questions around the data itself and how best to present it in a digestible and productive manner.
So what next? Publishing the National Treasury data in an open and accessible format to encourage continued use of it, naturally! To this end the data will be hosted on the South African National Data Portal and a proof of concept application will be developed to allow people to explore and interact with this data.
Hell yeah! Big things to come.