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5 min

IODC One Year Reflection: Using Learnings to Improve Russian Government Spending

A poster and a building.
Written by
Olya Parkhimovich
Published on
July 17, 2019

I have been working in the open data field since 2011. I am passionate about public finance data — including budgets, government contracts, procurements, and subsidies. I am attracted to how open data explains the state’s actual organization, and enables citizens to create better services that solve real problems.

A significant piece of open data is understanding information technology. To really understand how to solve citizens’ problems using government data, you need to understand what data is being disclosed, how to make it machine readable, and how to improve its quality. But in doing so, you should not be limited only to working with data. Communication with people is no less important. In working with open data, significant time is devoted to consulting civil servants, training citizens to search through and work with open data, and conducting hackathons.

Networking, building familiarity with international projects, and sharing our experience is another big part of working with open data. In 2018, I was able to do each of these in a wider and more effective way thanks to the Open Heroines community, which awarded me a travel grant to attend and participate in the International Open Data Conference 2018 (IODC 2018).

Outside the IODC18 Venue in Buenos Aires.
Outside the IODC18 Venue in Buenos Aires

This trip to IODC 2018 was actually my second visit to Latin America, my first trip having been to Uruguay. That flight from Russia took 38 hours, so I did not imagine that I would have the opportunity to visit this part of the world again.

The OH travel grant allowed me to attend not only the conference, but also the OH Do-a-thon. I did not work with gender projects and problems before this event, so I managed to plunge into a completely new field for me. At this event, I participated in two project groups: working on a System of Gender Indicators for the City of Buenos Aires, and a group on Extractives and Gender.

Open data brown mug.

The topic discussed in the second group overlaps with my work and home project. This non-profit project is called Government Spending. The purpose of our project is to provide machine readable data on public procurement, and explain to users how to understand and use open financial data. During the discussion, we came to the conclusion that the “Extractives and Gender” field is not very far along or well developed, but I had ideas that it is possible to distinguish “gender” in open financial data.

The IODC 2018 conference program was very rich and allowed you to find a session about any topic of interest in open data: the state of open data, open data in agriculture, open data in transportation, the economic impact of open data, and much more. I focused on sections on the future and development of open data, and everything about contracts and open finance.

A year later after attending the conference, I can highlight a few key points (examples) about how the conference has influenced my work:

  • Firstly, I am writing a Ph.D. thesis on the development of the Public Finance Ontology. Linked data on public finances will simplify the data analysis and error identification. The development of the Public Finance Ontology, which will allow the transition from datasets published on different sources with different structures and errors to a “data lake,” requires interdisciplinary knowledge and feedback from experts. Networking from IODC allowed me to find specialists in open data, public finance, and ontologies to help further my PhD.
  • Secondly, the sessions “Open Data in Accountability and Anti-Corruption,” and “Open Contracting for Infrastructure” pushed me to come up with new ideas that we are now implementing in our Government Spending project. For example, at the end of last year, we translated the Idiot’s Guide to Looting Public Procurement and Getting Rich Quickly created by the Open Contracting Partnership, into Russian. We also studied the possibility of publishing Russian data on government contracts (which are used in our project) in the international Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) standard.
  • Thirdly, the “Open Data in Eastern Europe and Central Asia” section and coffee breaks allowed me to become familiar with the work in other countries in my region, meet exciting people from different countries, and even see old friends. My work enables me to interact with different target audiences (data providers — specifically government bodies, citizens, and programmers) through speeches, consultations, and papers on open data and public finances. Therefore, I am able to take inspiration from the conference speeches and use it to inspire others. I also received feedback from IODC participants on the Government Spending Project, and discussed that feedback with OCDS users and creators.

My Biggest IODC18 Takeaways

I was pleased to share my experience with open data, talk about open data in Russia, present our Government Spending Project, and share what happens when difficulties arise using data. I hope that my own participation was useful to other participants in the conference.

Of course, any conference is not only filled with new knowledge, inspiration, and acquaintance. Outside of the conference venue, I also explored the culture of the amazing country of Argentina, visited museums and the Japanese garden, enjoyed delicious food (it would be dishonest not to mention this), walk along the quiet streets, and immerse myself in the atmosphere of Latin America.

People in a conference on stage.

I want to thank the Open Heroines community that made this trip possible. I wish the best for all IODC and community participants developing open data, and hope we can all see each other at IODC 2020!

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