Join us for Hack Day on EU procurement data May 2 in BrusselsOutdated 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.
Next month OpenSpending will be at the annual DataHarvest, where investigative journalists and civic coders dig into data projects from across Europe. The DataHarvest takes it name from the annual release of payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy analyzes by the friends at Farmsubsidy.
We wanted to follow up on the work on EU procurements, which could become a useful source for journalists. Opented.org did some of the ground work scraping and parsing of the data from the European procurement register, TED.
We’re therefore excited to host a Hack Day on procurement data on May 2 before the DataHarvest thanks to support from the Mozilla OpenNews programme.
Why open up procurements?
Procurement data tended, for good reasons, to enjoy much less attention from journalists than for instance spending data. A major reason is the fact that contract information tend to be more about text than spreadsheets, but also because access to aggregate data has been limited. However with access to more than 100,000 public sector contracts annually from the European procurement register originating from tiny municipalities to large government agencies, there are good reasons to explore if contracts can help fill out the blanks. What is needed is good data feeds, which can provide journalists with contract data beyond the single search options offered at TED. So how does contract data supplement other data sources?
####When spending data is unavailable Spending data is useful as it provides a clear paper trail of actual individual payments over time, unlike contract information, which often include an indication by the tme of contract award. However today, most European governments have yet to publish transactional spending data as it for instance practised in the UK and Slovenia. When looking at pubic agencies outside government such as regions or municipalities, where a sizeable share of government spending is being executed, access to transactional spending data is yet less common. Therefore procurement data on contracts awarded from any public agency above the EU threshold at EUR 200,000, is often the only resort for a paper trail documenting public spending on particular contractors.
####Getting a sneak peak into publicly owned companies The public does mostly not have access to information about how publicly owned companies such as power utilitiesspend their money. It is however an often overlooked fact that EU procurement rules apply to all majority publicly owned companies. That is the reason why the public can access more than 500 contracts awarded by the Swedish state-owned Vattenfall in all countries of operation, such as this contract awarded from their Berlin based company, due to the fact that it is majority owned by the Swedish state.
####Contracts - still a soild source for single stories Journalists can use contract data to tell the stories on questionable recipients of contracts or no-bid contracts, when authorities “forgets” to announce a formal tender process. For many stories journalists have howeever been deemed to rely on reports from readers. An open and searchable database of contracts would innevetable improve the possibilities for covering such procurement processes more systematically. Could it for instance be possible to create an alert, which notified journalists whenever a payment was executed to a supplier (from our spending data), while not appearing in the register for official contract winners (from TED)?
Looking outside the realm of journalism it is worth noting that transparency organisations and international institutions recently have begun looking at more closely at contract data, though until now mostly outside the EU. The last year has seen several new initiatives on procurement including Opencontracting of the World Bank Institute and another procurement initiative in the making from the Sunlight Foundation. A few weeks back the folks at WBI helped lay out some ground work for a draft for a data standard based on procurement data from the UK, US, Columbia, the Phillipines and the World Bank. For EU procurement data, I’ve helped write up a similar suggested draft at OpenTed. Tim Davies recently wrote up this account on the work to sort out a draft for a contracting data standard. Initiatives such as these could hopefully be helpful for opening up EU procurement data to journalists.