The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) is the thematic partner for the Global Data Barometer’s public finance module. The module includes two primary indicators which aim to track governance of open public finance data and availability of budgeting and spending data.
GIFT is a multi-stakeholder network which promotes capacity building and advocacy work in fiscal transparency, accountability and inclusive participation. It is committed to facilitating dialogue with various stakeholders to encourage openness in government spending. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Aura E. Martínez Oriol, the Coordinator for Knowledge, Technical Assistance, and Collaboration at GIFT.
GIFT is a multi-stakeholder network which promotes capacity building and advocacy work in fiscal transparency, accountability and inclusive participation. It is committed to facilitating dialogue with various stakeholders to encourage openness in government spending.
Q: Can you provide a brief summary of the work that you do?
At GIFT we try to fill in the gap between demand and supply of fiscal information, through advocacy for norms and standards. Most of our work is achieved through high level peer learning, peer to peer learning and collaboration, research, and technical assistance—actively engaging the members of the network (54 members in 2021, including 22 ministries of finance). For standardization of norms and standards, we have two main tools, which are GIFT High-level Principles on Fiscal Transparency, Participation and Accountability and the Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policies (both available here). We are currently working on the Transparency Principles for Tax Policy and Administration (here).
Over the years we have also noted that there is a disconnect between publishing of data in open format and its use. It would seem that the threshold for most countries is publishing the data in open format, then when data is published, reformers and champions feel a little bit defeated. They believe that a mountain has been moved, and reality does not measure up to their expectations. So, behind the mountain, there is another mountain, dissemination and communicating the availability of the data to make it impactful. This is probably the part where we need to invest in communication/marketing skills for the technical people that work with data, in both the governmental and civil society sectors, in order to reach beyond where we are reaching now in terms of impact.
Q: How does the GDB matter for the work that you’re doing?
Our collaboration with the GDB helps us diagnose and assess a number of emerging issues with the countries we work with. It provides for a broad scope of where we are in terms of the obligation to produce, as well as the actual publication of fiscal information in open formats around the world. It also allows us to detect highlightable practices, as well as areas of opportunity for our stewards and partners that can potentially benefit from our work: tools we provide, peer to peer learning and capacity building opportunities, or direct technical assistance.
Q: What roles does data occupy in the work that you do?
We use data in a two fold way. First we collaborate with partners, such as the Global Data Barometer, Open Contracting Partnership, and other fiscal transparency initiatives to promote fiscal openness. We are also involved in initiatives to promote open formats in both spending and revenue information; notably through a standardization schema for open fiscal data. We give tools to countries that want to map data and use specific standards for publication in open formats and provide technical assistance on user-centered, results oriented, design of publication strategies.
To track the progress of the countries we work with, we use specific indexes such as the Open Data Barometer. We also use the Open Budget Index, which is not centered in open data, but is quite helpful as it can show where the gap between the existing information and data provided is (GIFT is administratively housed at IBP).
Our collaboration with the GDB helps us diagnose and assess a number of emerging issues with the countries we work with. It provides for a broad scope of where we are in terms of the obligation to produce, as well as the actual publication of fiscal information in open formats around the world.
Q: What are some of your early reactions to the data that has been collected by the GDB?
What we have seen so far is that the thematic area demands high expertise and in some cases data is not made available in easily accessible formats. For example during the pandemic, we have more people looking for spending data relating to COVID-19. Because it is important to know how the governments are spending, people are looking for this information more actively. In a number of countries where the information and data is available, there is poor communication of the availability of data and it ends up not being used.
We have also identified two trends that we are monitoring. In some countries, there is a lot of information providing context but low data. While in other countries government’s give very little information through official documents, but provide significant data in open formats. This is surprising so we have a number of countries that we are looking at and there are logical explanations for these trends. For example, some countries have invested heavily in technology in the last couple of years, so it is easier for them to just pull down the data or upload it, than to actually make a report or a website to share the data. In such cases we would advocate for more user-centered approaches to accompany the publication of data in open formats.
When data is not accompanied by adequate context information, that helps whoever has access to understand the context, usability and impact are a challenge.
Q: What are some of the challenges that come up when data is released without adequate context information?
When data is not accompanied by adequate context information, that helps whoever has access to understand the context, usability and impact are a challenge. Fiscal transparency open data is increasingly being used by a broader spectrum of international and national observers, who in some cases are non-technical and might find that data hard to use to influence decision making. For instance, if gender advocacy groups need gender mainstreaming data to understand budgeting for COVID-19 relief and response rollouts. Without the correct information, that data may not be used to track the levels of inclusivity within that particular context. One of our principles is inclusiveness, which we can track when the data is accompanied by the right information. This is key because all voices must be heard, but also information must be able to reach people not traditionally involved or not traditionally heard, including excluded groups or minorities. So if we don’t also push for usability, we are effectively leaving those still behind on a larger scale.
Q: What are some compelling examples of data availability, data governance, data capacity building or data use in your area?
Well, one experience that we refer to constantly is the Mexican case. It has not moved forward a lot in the last few years, but since the implementation of fiscal data in open formats, we have seen some encouraging results. For a long time, Mexico was a global leader in open fiscal transparency data through the use of fiscal transparency portals and a number of open data standards. They delved into several thematic areas including open contracting, open infrastructure, openness of subsidies, beneficiaries information, performance indicators, subnational transfers and its spending, and open spending information. A specific example is how the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy used subnational expenditure data for non-motorized mobility transportation advocacy. The Mexico chapter of the institute collaborated with the Ministry of Finance, which in turn analyzed the contents of their research . This allowed them to create targeted proposals which led to the rules for a specific sub-national investment fund to be revisited to include non motorized mobility.
Photo cred: GIFT