Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table


On April 24 Pia Waugh of the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) announced the first ever release of Australian Federal Budget Data in Excel and CSV formats.

This is the culmination of both internal and external lobbying by open data and budget transparency advocates. There are many people within the Finance Department committed to improving the public’s access to information. This includes improving the processes and systems that drive the way information like budget data is delivered.

The recent Audit Commission report: Phase 2, (pp.56-66), speaks at length about the need for and ways of improving budget transparency.

While a large volume of performance information is currently available there is no easily understood performance framework. Current arrangements make it difficult for the community to determine whether money is well spent, whether spending programmes meet their objectives and how efficiently and effectively the public sector is performing.

Suggestions include better evaluation of program delivery against stated outcomes (these are included in Budget Portfolio Statements released on budget night) and providing a central repository of program information that can be accessed by government in a way that allows better tracking and evaluation:

At present there is no central register of government programmes at a detailed level (like ‘programme expenses’). The absence of a central register has been an impediment to the Commission in assessing government programmes – one likely shared with government when formulating the Budget.

The Department of Finance is currently redeveloping its Central Budget Management System, the information and technology system which supports financial and budget management for the Commonwealth Government.

In the new system, entities will enter financial data at a more detailed programme level, allowing information to be generated and centralised. This reporting will commence in late 2014, for the 2015-16 Budget. (p. 64)

Such considerations are not so much about cutting waste as it is normally imagined but ensuring that programs are efficient in so much as they are delivering their objectives. Without an appropriate accountability system the ability to evaluate at this basic level is compromised.

BudgetAus (of which I am the founder and author) provides a system capable of delivering the kind of searchability across budget data that the government conceeds it requires in order to provide accountability to the public for program quality and reporting. BudgetAus is a system I developed to answer just the kinds of questions the government also requires answers to in order to conduct its business. Likewise, as BudgetAus relies on data from the government itself, it encounters the same hindrances to achieving full functionality that the government itself experiences.

The release of budget data in Excel format for the first time on budget night (Tuesday, May 13) is a major step toward improving budget transparency and accountability because it provides the data to the public for our own examination. However, given that this is the first ever release in this format, this process is likely to be hindered to a degree by the lack of uniform approach between agencies in how each presents its spending information to the Department of Finance for publishing on the Treasury website.

I can report that efforts are underway to provide consistent formatting and appropriately detailed data for projects like BudgetAus, and that the government is making significant efforts to consult with users including myself. This in turn allows me to plug the data into my database for use by the public (although this may take a day or so depending on consistency across agency’s data).

To celebrate this significant step in collaboration between the government and transparency advocates, BudgetAus is running a social media event on budget night and beyond to gather questions from the public.

Our panel includes media experts Margo Kingston and Wendy Bacon, and economists Nicholas Gruen and Ben Spies-Butcher, who will be engaging with you on the evenings of  May 13-14 through Twitter to discuss the budget and gather your questions regarding the budget.

In the background our volunteer coders will be working hard to come up with graphs, visualisations or other means of answering your questions using the newly released budget data.

It is hoped that interested parties can carry on with BudgetAus as a publicly owned budget transparency project for Australia. Such a project requires not only people with technical skills to contribute as they can, but also the general public and other user groups to provide feedback and make feature requests as the codebase develops.

Pursuing BudgetAus as a collaborative project owned by the public under appropriate governance structures, instead of an individual personal project, is a necessary step in ensuring Australians enjoy the ongoing benefits that budget transparency brings to our politics and our personal lives. I extend this invitation to you to become part of this project and hope to see you there!

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  1. @CentrePolicyDev FYI

  2. Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table via @NoFibs

  3. .@grhutchens @piawaugh details are at & #auspol

  4. Budget details to be released in Excel, available from @Info_Aus and discussed live via @NoFibs Good work all round!

  5. #auspol #Budget2014 Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table:

  6. If you can push out this budget week event I’d be grateful – thanks @Drag0nista @independentaus @OnLineOpinion

  7. Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table via @NoFibs

  8. Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table via @NoFibs #data #evidencebasedplanning

  9. FYI & check out event details at #auspol @piecritic @emmadavidsonACT

  10. If you are interested in some budget wonkery next week, @Info_Aus has the details here:

  11. Moses & rise of self-trained journo Meet Oz CJ @Info_aus & her open data budget experiment

  12. Thanks @Info_Aus @danielhurstbne.
    The wonderful @margokingston1 has messaged you at today :)
    I’ll be there 4 #budget

  13. On budget night No Fibs will launch their citizen #datajournalism coverage. Good to see more people in the data space

  14. Here’s the piece that ties @Info_Aus & @Nofibs together. BudgetAus project is about transparency

  15. #auspol #Budget2014 Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table:

  16. ping. @liammannix “@Wendy_Bacon: @Info_Aus & @Nofibs together. BudgetAus project is about transparency”

  17. Delivering transparency on Budget night: @Info_Aus invites you to the table via @NoFibs
    Good idea. Thanks

  18. Join @Info_Aus for online Open Budget Event, May 13-14 – delivering #transparency on budget night: via @NoFibs

  19. piawaugh says

    Hi all, just a quick message. Firstly, what we have currently committed to is publishing the PBS Excel files, which as Rosie points may have some inconsistencies in formatting and as we have said, are primarily used for publishing and are not machine readable. As such, and because we care about open data, my team are dedicating significant time when we get them to extracting the line item data (every component including program and outcomes information) into a single, consistent and machine readable CSV on along with the PBS excel files. This will make it easier to analyse agency spending but please remember, not all government entities have a PBS, so please refer to the Budget Papers 1-4 for the overall budget information. We have published the CSV structure in the blog comments ( Historically this data was only available in PDF or Doc format, so we are pretty excited. Please stay tuned to the comments on our blog post as we’ll be adding further updates in the coming days. Finally I don’t work for AGIMO :) I work for the Technology and Procurement Division in Finance, under the Chief Technology Officer John Sherridan (@sherro58 if you use twitter). Please find the team at @datagovau on twitter where we will also make updates as we have them.