First Stakeholder Workshop in Berlin: a promising start

Dec 18, 2015

On the first days of December, organized a workshop for stakeholders and practitioners from the field of fiscal policy in Berlin. In this article, we want to share some of the results and outcomes of the workshop, which brought together a variety of diverse actors working with budget data in their corresponding profession. Among the participants were representatives of advocacy- and anti-corruption organisations, civil society organisations, members of different levels of the administrations, investigative journalists, budget experts, and other experts from the field of fiscal transparency.

The reason to hold this workshop were twofold: on the one hand, OpenBudgets is a strongly stakeholer-driven project. It is our goal to tailor the project outcomes towards the needs of the community that strives for more transparency and accountability in the public sector. This means that there is a need for feedback channels from the community towards OpenBudgets as a project. Secondly, it was a chance for those actors to interact with one another in order to share best practices, stories, and lessons learned from their work in the field. Actors from different parts of Europe face similar issues in their work, and a workshop of this kind can lead to a much-needed exchange.

The workshop was structured with these goals in mind, and therefore predominantly featured sessions that were driven by interaction and collaboration. In a clinic session, participants were asked to focus on challenges presented by three frontrunners from the field of data journalism, anti-corruption activism, and civil society presented: J++, Funky Citizens, and Hasadna. In the fiscal policy session, public officials from different levels of government showed the other side of the coin. This gave some great insights in the inner-workings of the government, and the complex budget processes.

Highlighted Cases:

J++ presented their work on the migrants files, a project on “Fortress Europe” where they counted migrants and refugees who passed away on their passage to Europe and the cost of migration, from smugglers to spending on guarding the borders:

Funky Citizens, an NGO from Romania, has built a budget simulator in collaboration with the Romanian Ministry of Finance. The tool allows citizens to build their own budget by either adding more money or cutting it to the different policy areas. This fostered a debate on budgets and allowed for the collection of budget data, but also showed how budgets remain abstract for citizens.

Finally, Hasadna developed a budget platform displaying the Israeli national budget: The tool does not merely display the data, it shines light on the entire budget process and shows the spikes in budget changes throughout the year. These spikes are further investigated to uncover budget amendments to cover expenditures that politicians would prefer to keep hidden from the official budgets approved in parliament.

The gap analysis showed that there is a need to share knowledge, amongst user-groups but especially across user groups. In addition, knowledge and understanding of budget data need to be brought to the user. The ‘planning’ session showed that most use-cases for budget- and spending-data projects still focus on increasing understanding with interest groups, citizens, and other civil society groups.

Workshop Reading the User Stories. Picture: Cecile Le Guen

To sum up, the first OpenBudgets stakeholder workshop has presented us with valuable input for the planning and design of the openbudgets platform. Without a doubt, there is a challenge in the creation of a platform that is used by both governments and is useful to non-governmental stakeholders. The gap analysis has shown that there are significant knowledge gaps between the different groups. This means there is a need for continuous exchange as well as a need for resources that present actors in fiscal transparency with best practices. The heavily technical nature of budget data has been shown to result in a need for d more budget expertise.

The workshop, as a first gathering of the community involved in OpenBudgets, has strengthened our conviction that it is of high importance to have strong partners on the ground and to continually listen to their input. We will continue to reach out to this community, both online and offline, starting with a stakeholder mapping at the Winter School on Digital methods: