Working with others
We've outlined some ambitious goals for this book, but you don't have to go it alone! In this section we focus on how to work with other organizations to create powerful advocacy efforts, all driven by hard fiscal data! Every CSO, not just government transparency organizations, can leverage the information in this book. Government spending data touches issues covered by a variety of organizations and journalistic outlets, such as human rights, the environment, poverty, scientific research, education, economic policy, and more. But not all these groups may realize it's importance.
Why work together?
A common observation has been that CSOs, journalists, and other groups that work with a lot of data encounter a set of similar problems. The problems typically include lack of technical knowledge, duplication of work, lack of wide dissemination of analysis and results, and creating compelling visual products. A lot of these challenges could be mollified if proper channels of communication existed between these organizations.
One of the most important ways to reduce these technical barriers is to maintain an active dialogue and a process of sharing the methodologies and underlying data in analysis you produce. You can avoid the mistakes of your predecessors by reading their methodologies and learning about idiosyncrasies in the data. Or you may be able to point out mistakes another organization has made. Similarly, if you document how your data has been processed and analyzed, other organizations can benefit (more about that in a few chapters).
Creating communication can be as easy as joining or maintaining a mailing list of groups that work on similar topics or leverage similar data in their work products. Most webmail services offer free group or mailing list functions, such as Google Groups or Yahoo Groups. If you maintain one, be responsive to messages and active in recruiting members. Email is an extremely low barrier for starting a conversation between organizations.
If you've already got data products that you want to share, try disseminating them in a couple of different ways. In addition to the methods outlined above, try preparing primers or manuals for other groups that want to start working with datasets that you may be particularly experienced with. You can also organize workshops, meetups, and webinars to familiarize groups with the data you work with. If grassroots issue groups can internalize your data products and present them in a contextually relevant way to their user base, then both groups have gained something from the partnership.
Another good way to facilitate knowledge sharing and communication between organizations is by conducting internship programmes for interested individuals and organisations. However it is important to keep in mind the target groups. It's great to interface with similar spending data focused groups working at different levels of government than your own, but identifying groups that work on completely different issue areas is important. These groups may feel incapacitated to enact change in the fiscal policy as it relates to their own issues. It then becomes an important job for spending data groups to identify and offer their support. It's especially important to establish strong links with groups that serve those minority populations who are often marginalized in government spending priorities.
The kind of collaboration discussed above can result in a much broader and stronger coalition of organizations that can advocate for fiscal transparency and detailed disclosure of spending data at all levels of government.