Next Week in Berlin: Goals and Hopes for Following the Money Together

We’re excited, and a little bit in awe, about the group that will join us next week in Berlin for our Follow the Money (FTM) Workshop: more than 100 policy campaigners, NGO leaders, techies, researchers, funders and local activists from Latin America to the South Pacific, from Europe to Africa.

We’re even more excited, though, by the collaborative activity and cumulative knowledge that can emerge from this two-day working session.

So what does FTM mean? Simply put, the goal is to strengthen accountability for public resources in ways that improve their use for the public interest. Clearly, the range of work and skills needed to achieve this are huge, and little will be possible without some serious amounts of collaboration and joint action. This is true for any social change movement. But it’s worth noting that it is absolutely essential for fiscal accountability work, since it usually requires linking between data sets, work across jurisdictions, coordination between professional sectors etc. This is why the ‘Follow the Money’ network was formed and is growing apace.

The 2-day meeting that begins Tuesday morning aims to be one vital part of the puzzle. It aims to be super-practical and has two goals. The first is to find concrete areas where new approaches and new collaborations can give Follow the Money efforts more impact – we’ll do that by learning from each other’s work to date, and trying to map where we go from here and who does what next. The second is to draw all that collective wisdom together so that T/AI can help get that out to others after the event.

In terms of the focus topics, we’ve identified priority candidates from participants’ pre-workshop inputs. As with our prior Workshops, the agenda will continue to be adapted throughout the event itself, thanks to the open, participatory facilitation approach of our co-organizers Aspiration. But at the moment, working groups may cluster around the following:

Issue-specific challenges

  • Reducing the degree that money buys political influence, including work on party and campaign finances
  • Reducing illicit financial flows (and under-appreciated licit financial flows) from national budgets, including work on clarifying corporate ownership, and asset tracking/return
  • Improving service delivery through better budget allocation and use, at national and sub-national levels
  • Improving the impacts of resource extraction revenues.

Location-specific challenges

  • Getting a total resource picture in a country/district (all revenue sources, all fiscal flows) and using that to get better accountability and policy-making
  • e.g. How might we pick priority countries to test approaches and prevent data silos by bringing together people from across sectoral groups and across stakeholder types (e.g. journalists, CSO activists, data geeks etc)?
  • e.g. How do we address “government at different levels”, including breakdowns in communications and data silos between central and subnational government units, in service delivery failures?

And finally, there are a range of cross-cutting challenges such as:

  • The need to make data from different sources and places in the money chain comparable and interoperable, through data standards, aggregation and continued experimentation.
  • The need to understand which users need which types of information, and in what form, so that the Follow the Money and open government communities can promote a norm of data that is not only available but comprehensible, and actionable, for citizens, community groups, NGOs, donors, the private sector and government.
  • The need for responsible data and data practices that balance openness with privacy, access with security and that manage all data with the protection of individuals in mind.
  • The need to understand each others’ work better, and to learn the key differences between tracking legal financial flows, illicit transactions that may or may not be technically legal, outright money laundering and other criminal activity such as drug trafficking, and the laws, contracts and policies that underlie these different fiscal flows.

The growing Follow the Money network is already working together to define an overall strategy for 2015. This will be discussed at a separate 1-day meeting on Thursday. So our 2-day more practically-orientated meeting will feed into that, but we will leave the field-wide strategy discussions ‘til then.

We will continue to publish stories from the field, new commentary and new findings on the web and using hashtag #FTMTech. We’ll also be posting immediate and longer-term outcomes from the Workshop to help ensure that those who could not attend share in the results and add their own stories.

To “Follow the Money” and bring any change, the path may need to wind through investigative journalism, advocacy for legal reforms and corporate reporting, donor action on aid, public service planning, public mobilisation for campaigns, legal prosecutions, etc etc etc within and across countries. Only by pooling our knowledge and coordinating our action will we bring change.

And that’s why we are so excited about Berlin and beyond!