The Czech budget on-line: the half success storyOutdated Content Warning: This content refers to an older version of OpenSpending. See here for information about the next version of OpenSpending and ways to contribute.
This post is by Michal Škop, of KohoVolit.eu.
It all started almost 2 years ago. Our partner NGO NasiPolitici.cz started to think about putting the Czech public money data on the web and asked us at KohoVolit.eu if we were interested. And we said yes, we always wanted to do something ‘about money’ (we used to be a parliamentary watchdog only till then).
We found out that there is a huge amount of public financial data available on-line. Every single public organization has to fill several detailed accounting forms every year, the oldest data are from 1994 (not published, but they are there). And it is available even in xml. Can you ask for more?
Later on, we found that there were some serious catches. The Ministry of finance, which provided the data, severely limited the number of downloads from one IP. It would have taken us a couple of months just to download everything (some 60 GB of data). The Tor and mobile connection (changing IP) came in useful. The forms were in xml, but mixing raw basic data with sums with no clear distinction between them at all. Funny. They changed the system for 2010. Et cetera. We were progressing rather slowly, with no financial support at all.
Finally, help from Anticorruption Endowment came and we got funding for about two month (developer) to build a site connecting (just) the government budgets with the politicians. That was important, I could not just show the data in some nice way, I needed to do other things with the application – showing historical data, connecting to politicians.
I spent a month just fiddling with the data, trying to find a suitable a) data storage and b) application to build on.
I tried OpenSpending.org first, but I was not able to set up the data there. I tried to tweak our parliamentary API, but it was just too much work, I would not be able to finish it in time. After a few weeks, I still was not sure if I would get the results using OpenSpending.org. The guys behind OtwarteDane.pl were very helpful and so we decided to store the data with them.
I did not use OpenSpending.org’s API, but their bubbletree chart was good. I needed to catch a few bugs, but it took me just a few days to get it running more-or-less in a way I wanted (well yes, I still need to clean the code for ‘pull request’). And – importantly – it was possible to build our application(s) on it.
For the future, we will update the project once the 2011 data is available. We shall solve the problem with bubbles’ scaling. We will write analyses based on it mainly push others to do it. And I already have the Prague 2012 budget data ready to bubble…