The open seminar about OpenSpending, March 14th, was a pleasure for me to moderate. Especially in terms of important and highlighted thoughts and ideas, those were openly discussed by the attendees. Tryggvi Björgvinsson, Technical Lead for the OpenSpending project at OKFN, introduced, and presented the status as well as possibilities from a global perspective. Below follows some notes about the challenges that OpenSpending stands before.
Why would people want to see open spending? The first point is that people around the world have interest in knowing where our money go. Secondly, actually knowing enables us to be more engaged to decide upon spending, towards participatory budgeting.
OpenSpending primarily works with data from governments and their institutions. OpenSpending does not focus on crowding data from citizens. It is however notable that information harvested from private persons can affect markets and the society. Examples in Sweden include: SvD:s räntekarta, as well as mapped small scale electricity production, by Ny Teknik. From OpenSpending’s point of view, other initiatives are derived, such as “Where does my money go?” in Japan, to mention one progressive development. This now includes 128 initiatives or more, in different cities of Japan.
Structure financial data is difficult. Considering Sweden’s tradition of structure and audit, the financial information for public companies is structured and reported since the days of Swedish business man, Ivar Kreuger. However, if we for example regard the valuation for condominiums, it is much more difficult for consumers to compare and understand such financial information. This is not a blow for more administration in small economic associations. Moreover a demand for better structure, ease to access and compare data from annual reports. The already heated urban Swedish housing market, would at least provide buyers and sellers with fair and understandable information for the valuation.
Another question is why governmental institutions would welcome OpenSpending? Given the principle of public; laws regulate the openness and access to information produced by our Swedish authorities. Today, it is optional for authorities to interpret if information should be distributed on paper, or digitally readable. What are the incentives to distribute media that is digitally readable, only seen from our authorities’ perspective? The short answer is, if information is made available for the public, it would be a cost-effective way to market, communicate, reach and engage citizens. That is the case for national museums, to mention one.
Finally, we are also investigating ways why open spending is important for the industry. Stay tuned and follow us to get some answers on this one as well!