Data openness is receiving considerable interest globally over recent years. Several countries and organizations are engaged in global discussions in this area. The International Budget Partnership (IBP) is one of the largest forums for these discussions.
In April 2010, the World Bank made its development data available for download free of charge.(2) The Open Development Technology Alliance(3) (also known as the ICT Knowledge Platform) was created to enhance accountability and improve the delivery and quality of public services through technology-enabled citizen engagement (e.g. using mobile phones, interactive-mapping and social media). The World Bank is also one of the international financial institutions taking the lead in the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) - an initiative that promotes budget transparency, public participation, and accountability globally.(4) BOOST is another useful tool developed by the World Bank for transforming detailed government expenditure data from FMIS databases into an easy-to-understand data set (XLS) for detailed analysis through pivot tables and geo-mapping tools.
The signing of an Open Data Charter by G8 leaders on 18 June 2013 is another important development to promote transparency, innovation and accountability. The Open Data Charter sets out 5 strategic principles that all G8 members will act on. Additionally, the Lough Erne Declaration from the G8 Summit 2013 sets out agreed principles for the future, and the 10th principle is related to the open data: “Governments should publish information on laws, budgets, spending, national statistics, elections and government contracts in a way that is easy to read and re-use, so that citizens can hold them to account”.
Despite the growing interest, currently, guidance on publishing reliable open budget data (OBD) from underlying FMIS solutions is scarce. This study is the first attempt to explore the effects of FMIS on publishing open budget data and potential improvements in budget transparency (BT), and provide some guidance on the effective use of FMIS platforms to publish open budget data.
In order to ensure the reliability of public finance (PF) information published on the government web sites, relevant budget data should ideally be obtained from dependable Financial Management Information System (FMIS) platforms and comply with open data standards. The study is designed to draw the attention of governments for possible improvements in the accuracy, timeliness, and reliability of budget reporting, simply by publishing open budget data on public finance web sites from underlying FMIS platforms.
The team collected data and relevant evidence by visiting the government PF web sites (mainly Finance Ministries or Departments) in 198 economies, and collecting evidence on the use of 176 FMIS solutions in publishing open budget data. This study is not intended to develop another index or ranking on budget transparency. The scope is limited to the budget data disclosed by the governments on the web for the details of budget revenues and expenditures, as well as the results achieved. Other important aspects of fiscal discipline and transparency, related with a wide range of extra-budgetary funds, assets, contingent liabilities and quasi-fiscal operations were not possible to detect through such an external review.
The study shows that, as of today, only a small group of governments provide opportunities to the citizens, civil society groups or oversight agencies for access to reliable, accurate, and meaningful open budget data from underlying FMIS solutions. The findings of this study indicate that good practices in presenting open budget data from reliable FMIS solutions are highly visible in only 24 countries (12 %), despite the widespread availability of 176 FMIS platforms used by 198 governments around the world. However, there is an increase in demand from citizens and civil society for improved and complete open budget data about all financial activities, and many governments around the world are trying to respond to this democratic pressure.
Benefiting from the FMIS & OBD data set, about 100 cases from various government web sites in 53 countries were summarized in this study, to highlight some of the good practices in different areas of publishing open budget data from FMIS. Based on the observations of this study, the lessons learned from good practice cases and the experiences gained in the development of FMIS solutions and open budget data portals, the study provides the following guiding principles to publish open budget data through FMIS platforms (these guidelines are described in detail within the study):
- Availability of timely and comprehensive budget information
- Disclosure of details about underlying information systems
- Availability of user defined (dynamic) query and reporting capabilities
- Publishing reliable and interlinked open budget data
- Authentication of the sources of public finance data
- Improving the quality of presentation
- Promoting the effective use of open budget data
Of the 7 principles, it is worth highlighting that publishing reliable open budget data (free, online, editable) from data warehouse solutions linked with FMIS databases is crucial to improve the accuracy and reusability of PF data. The following points provide detailed guidance to address this issue:
- Publishing open budget data on the web requires a cultural change. Posting open budget data requires a change in the mindsets of politicians and government officials, who are committed to increasing public confidence by allowing more visibility into operations. This is both an adaptive and a technical challenge for the public finance officials and ICT specialists, who should manage this change effectively to ensure that their motivations are properly understood and supported.
- Benefiting from the guidelines on publishing “linked open data”. A number of guidelines exist to define the minimum requirements for open government data, as well as the web publishing standards (e.g. Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, EU Public Sector Information Platform, The World Bank Open Data). The W3C has developed specific guidelines to help governments open and share their data, emphasizing the importance of Metadata to clarify the structure of posted data and related standards (e.g. RDF; Resource Description Framework
The World Bank released the Open Government Data Toolkit (OGD Toolkit) in 2012, to provide staff and government officials a basic set of resources for initiating and developing an open data program. The toolkit includes five components: (i) Open Data Essentials; (ii) Technology Options; (iii) Demand and Engagement; (iv) Supply and Quality of Data; and (v) Readiness Assessment Tool. Another useful reference is the Open Data Handbook which presents the legal, social and technical aspects of open data. These resources can be used while developing open budget data portals.
- Open budget data creates opportunities to add value to public information. As a part of ongoing FMIS modernization efforts, some governments are focused on publishing open budget data to provide opportunities for new products and improved service delivery by adding value to PF data, which is difficult and expensive to capture. PF web sites should provide multiple access options, including full downloads and Application Programming Interface (API) for developers
- Paying attention to the legal aspects of open government data. Open data should ideally be license-free (i.e. not subject to any copyright, patent, or trademark). However, reasonable privacy, security and privilege restrictions may be acceptable. The legal aspects of open budget data should be clarified on government web sites, either by using existing licensing/legal options (e.g. Creative Commons licenses), or by defining country specific legal basis. Existing open data licensing options include: (i) Public domain (no rights reserved: CCo); (ii) Attribution (credit must be given: CC-BY); and (iii) Sharealike (data should be shared back: CC-BY-SA).
In summary, many governments publish substantial information on the PF web sites, but the contents are (not always) meaningful to provide adequate answers to where the money goes. Therefore, the main conclusion is, “What You See Is (Not Always) What You Get” in government web sites. Additional efforts are needed in many economies for building confidence in the budget data disclosed by the governments.
The good news is that selected cases demonstrate that the innovative solutions to publish open budget data and improve budget transparency can be developed rapidly with a modest investment even in difficult settings, if there is a commitment from the government and a strong interest from the public.
The PDF version of the study, “Financial Management Information Systems and Open Budget Data: Do governments report on where the money goes?”, is expected to be available sometime in September 2013. More information is available from the World Bank PRMPS Public Finance web site at www.worldbank.org/publicfinance/FMIS.
1 Cem Dener (Sr. Public Sector Specialist) and Saw Young (Sandy) Min (Jr. Professional Officer) are staff members of the Governance and Public Sector Management (PRMPS) practice of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) network of the World Bank.