4 Good Practice
This section of the report details international examples and guidelines for fiscal transparency.
4.1 Overseas Examples
As part of the study we investigated several good international examples of online fiscal transparency. All the sites we looked at demonstrated features which are relevant to how the Scottish Government could improve fiscal transparency, in particular:
- Dynamic and engaging ways of using data and geographical visualisations to explain the fiscal landscape;
- The provision of open data downloads;
- The potential breadth of fiscal information;
- The importance of being able to drill down to show spend and outcomes at a low level;
- The necessity to explain the context of the data;
- The use of well-presented summary documents to describe more complex formal outputs such as budget statements.
On the Mexico Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Open Spending - Budget allocations and expenditures;
- Open Contracting;
- Performance indicators;
- Citizen budget (now a quick guide to the budget);
- Infrastructure projects;
- Subnational transfers;
- Local tax revenues;
- Subsidies search;
- Open contracting;
- Use of Facebook and Twitter for public communication.
United States – Federal Government
On the United States Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Spending explorer – drill down by agencies. Split by function, agency or types of items and services purchased;
- Spending over time;
- Contracting data;
- Custom data tabs, visualisations and queries;
- Specific explanatory platforms, e.g. Covid-19 spending;
- Contract award search;
- Account inputs and outputs + spending over time;
- Open data downloads and APIs.
On the Georgian Fiscal Transparency site (now discontinued), features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Budgets – showing and receipts and expenditure as dynamic visualisations;
- Capital projects;
- Procurement – by categories over time;
- National indicators;
- Details of audits;
- Local government budgets;
- Citizens page – feedback, anti-corruption and views on priorities;
- Sustainable development update by 17 UN goals;
- Administrative Costs.
On the South African Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Departmental budgets – with documents, dynamic data visualisations, data downloads;
- Division of revenue – explanation and visualisations;
- Infrastructure project spend;
- Open Spending: Budget allocations and expenditures;
- Contributed research by civil society or academia;
- Subnational transfers;
- Open data;
- Fiscal education resources;
On the Brazilian Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Benefits to citizens;
- Benefits / expenditure by regions;
- Many dynamic data visualisations, with source data;
- Expenditure and revenue;
- Expenditure over time;
- Transparency network – links to other transparency sites; Bids and contracts;
- Social media engagement;
- Government employee data;
- Open data;
- Dynamic data tables.
On the Australia Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- Catalogue of portfolio, department and agency fiscal publications;
- Dynamic data visualisation by various organisations and types of financial and non-financial data.
Australia (State of Queensland)
On the Queensland Fiscal Transparency site, features that might be relevant to Scotland include:
- State income and income from national sources (47% of state government income came from the federal government);
- Local taxes;
- Revenue from the Australian national government;
- Contract and grants spend;
- Spending by departments;
- Both with data visualisations and data downloads;
- Geographic view of spending.
There are also other good examples of fiscal transparency portals, such as:
- The El Salvador Fiscal Transparency site;
- The Indonesia Fiscal Transparency site;
- The Chile Fiscal Transparency site;
- The Dominican Republic Fiscal Transparency site.
4.2 UK Examples
The UK and devolved governments publish a large amount of fiscal information, and the UK is rated highly for fiscal transparency. However there are no good examples of online fiscal transparency portals in the UK, at either the UK or devolved level.
4.3 Standards and Good Practice
There are several publically available guidelines and standards for fiscal transparency and other relevant areas such as open data, accessibility and data visualisation. These publications can be used to shape what the project wants to achieve, and how these objectives are achieved.
Standard / Description
1. Open Budget Index
A global, independent, well-established and comparative measure of the budget transparency of national governments. The UK government's budget process is already assessed by the Open Budget Survey, however, as a sub-national government, Scotland's devolved budgeting processes are not specifically subject to assessment. In 2018, as part of its developing work on human rights budget work, the Scottish Human Rights Commission replicated the detailed Open Budget Survey methodology, giving the score shown in the Scottish Human Rights Commission 2019 Scotland Open Budget Survey Summary. There are more details on the Open Budget Index website.
2. Annual Reports and Accounts reporting principles
High-level principles for good reporting of performance, accountability and financial information in Annual Reports and Accounts, with best practice examples, are included in the Her Majesty's Treasury Government Financial Reporting Review paper
3. International Monetary Fund (IMF) Fiscal Transparency Code
The IMF Fiscal Transparency Code is the international standard for disclosure of information about public finances. The Code comprises a set of principles built around four pillars: (i) fiscal reporting; (ii) fiscal forecasting and budgeting; (iii) fiscal risk analysis and management; and (iv) resource revenue management. For each transparency principle, the Code differentiates between basic, good, and advanced practices to provide countries with clear milestones toward full compliance with the Code and ensure its applicability to the broad range of IMF member countries."
4. Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policies
The principles aim to guide fiscal policy makers and other stakeholders in their efforts to improve government performance and public trust. They are the result of a collaborative and deliberative process in which central government finance ministry officials, officials in line ministries, local authorities, members of the legislature as well as legislative support bodies, officials from audit institutions and a wide range of civil society representatives, debated public participation in fiscal policies and national budget processes. Inputs from a wider public were also gathered through a web-based public consultation.
The GIFT Principles and Guidance describe the key elements of fiscal transparency portals and are a possible framework for the long term Scottish objectives.
5. International Budget Partnership - Guide to Transparency in Government Budget Reports:
The IBP Guide to Transparency in Government Budget Reports lists eight key budget documents that countries should issue at different points in the budget process, according to generally accepted good practice criteria for public financial management, i.e.:
- Four relating to the formulation and approval stages of the budget process: — the Pre-Budget Statement, Executive's Budget Proposal, Enacted Budget, and Citizens Budget;
- Four relating to the government's execution and oversight of the budget — the In-Year Reports, Mid-Year Review, Year-End Report, and Audit Report.
Also describes a Citizens Budget document - a simplified non-technical summary of the budget designed to facilitate discussion - designed to reach and be understood by as large a segment of the population as possible.
Includes 3 criteria to judge countries on the openness of their budgets: Transparency; Public participation and Budget oversight.
6. Open Knowledge Foundation – Fiscal Data Package
The Open Knowledge Foundation Fiscal Data Package, a technical specification for publishing fiscal data, as well as the OpenSpending fiscal data package platform – a free and open global platform which implements the Fiscal Data Package to provide easy ways of searching, visualising and analysing fiscal data in the public sphere.
7. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Budget Transparency toolkit
The OECD Budget Transparency Toolkit provides practical steps and guidance for supporting openness, integrity, and accountability in public financial management. There is some good information on:
- Clear budget information;
- Parliamentary scrutiny and engagement;
- Independent oversight and control;
- Openness and civil engagement;
- Promoting integrity within the private sector;
- Transparency throughout the budget cycle.
8. Open data publishing standards
There are several publically available guidelines for publishing open data, e.g.:
- The W3C Publishing Open Government Data site;
- The Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data Handbook ;
- Open Data Institute data publishing guidelines.
9. Open data standards
There are a number of standards designed to assist people and organisations to easily publish, access, share and use better quality data. For examples see Open Data Standards webpage.
10. Digital Accessibility
Section 3.7 of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards for general digital accessibility provides guidance on accessible data visualisations. UK government accessibility guidance can be found on the UK Government Designing for different browsers and devices webpage and the UK Government Making your service accessible webpage.
11. Scottish Government Digital First Service Standard
The Scottish Government Digital First Service Standard is a set of 22 criteria that all digital services developed by Scottish Central Government sector organisations and Scottish Government corporate services must meet.
The standard has 3 themes:
- Design and deliver inclusive and accessible services which meet the needs of users;
- Making sure products and services are sustainable and continually improving;
- Choosing tools and technology that create a high quality service in a cost effective way.
12. Digital Scotland Design System
The Design Scotland Design System provides best practice guidance on core elements of digital design and web styling (although not data visualisation)
13. Guidance on Data Visualisation
There does not appear to be a standardised way of visualising data across government sectors. However there are a number of good example approaches from government and non-government sources, e.g.:
- Google Charts for a gallery of interactive charts and methods and examples of visualising data.
- Government Digital Service (GDS) for guidance on dashboard design.
- Government Statistical Service Publishing Guidance for publishers of official statistics who need to design data visualisations.
- The Material Design Webpage for different types of charts.
- Ministry of Justice guidance on sortable tables;
- Office for National Statistics guidance for creating charts and tables and best practice for using colour.
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