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May 28 2013

11:00

Spending Stories' 'Data Expedition' Tackles Tax Avoidance and Evasion

The Spending Stories team mentioned earlier in the year that we were looking into ways of helping journalists negotiate tricky financial topics. We're pleased to announce our first pilot "data expedition" on the topic of tax evasion and avoidance -- it aims to help reporters negotiate the key decisions made when writing on this highly contentious topic.

data_expedition.jpg

Want to dig deep into tax avoidance and evasion? We have gathered a wide range of data on this sensitive topic, and for one afternoon we'll guide you through some of the key decisions to think about when writing a story on it. With tax evasion and tax avoidance currently such a hot topic in the media, it's crucial that people can understand the difference between the two terms as well as the mechanisms by which they happen.

When: Thursday June 6, 12:00 BST to 17:00 BST (link to your timezone)

We'll be looking for projects such as:

  • Exploring the tax avoidance schemes used by Apple, Google, Amazon, or Starbucks;

  • Looking at data gathered by tax-collection authorities and patterns of avoidance that emerge from that dataset;

  • Creating a "most wanted" list tax evaders for future research;

  • Your project here!

Sign up here for the Data Expedition!

Please note that limited space is available. For more information about the Data Expedition format, we encourage you to read this article.

How can I participate?

To get involved either:

  • Lead a team (up to six hours) -- Are you able to help to coordinate a team on the day? This involves helping your team understand the options and research that's been conducted and starting a discussion about the choice of story and how to construct a plan for making the story happen. The School of Data team will hold a specific hangout for team leads on Monday, June 3 at 12:00 BST to prepare for Thursday's activities. Please email schoolofdata [at] okfn.org if you are interested in getting involved.

  • Offer an expert introduction (up to one hour) -- We're looking for experts who understand the loopholes or tactics used by companies in different countries to offer quick introductions 5-30 minutes long to get the expedition started.

  • Join us as a participant on the day (3-6 hours) -- You will need to be prepared to brainstorm ideas with others in your group and ultimately explain your choice of story. There will be two roles you can take on the day -- either getting stuck into the data (analyst) or writing (storyteller).

Aims of the expedition

We will aim to give people:

  • A clear understanding of the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance;
  • A key understanding of a few schemes via which people engage in them;
  • Perhaps also a few story ideas!

How to get involved

Please make sure you are registered here and that you select "Tax Avoidance/Evasion" in the "I'm Interested in..." section. Please note: You will need to be available for at least three hours during the expedition period and spaces will be limited, so preference will be given to those who can definitely commit to the expedition. Spaces will be confirmed shortly before the expedition.

Stay up to date with the latest data expeditions

Want to be informed anytime there is a new data expedition? Join the School of Data announcement list to get notifications of the expeditions as soon as they are announced.

Lucy Chambers is a community coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation. She works on the OKF's OpenSpending project and coordinates the data-driven-journalism activities of the foundation, including running training sessions and helping to streamline the production of a collaboratively written handbook for data journalists.

July 06 2010

10:05

Don’t stop us digging into public spending data

A very disturbing discovery by Chris Taggart last week: a number of councils in the UK are handing over their ‘open’ data to a company which only allows it to be downloaded for “personal” use.

As Chris himself points out, this runs completely against the spirit of the push to release public data in a number of ways:

  • Data cannot be used for “commercial gain”. This includes publishers wanting to present the information in ways that make most sense to the reader, and startups wanting to find innovative ways to involve people in their local area. Oh, and that whole ‘Big Society‘ stuff.
  • The way the sites are built means you couldn’t scrape this information with a computer anyway
  • It’s only a part of the data. “Download the data from SpotlightOnSpend and it’s rather different from the published data [on the Windsor & Maidenhead site]. Different in that it is missing core data that is in W&M published data (e.g. categories), and that includes data that isn’t in the published data (e.g. data from 2008).”

It’s a very worrying path indeed. As Chris sums it up: ” Councils hand over all their valuable financial data to a company which aggregates for its own purposes, and, er, doesn’t open up the data, shooting down all those goals of mashing up the data, using the community to analyse and undermining much of the good work that’s been done.”

The Transparency Board quickly issued a statement about this issue saying that “urgent” measures are taking place to rectify the problem.

And Spikes Cavell, who make the software, responded in Information Age, pointing out that “it is first and foremost a spend analysis software and consultancy supplier, and that it publishes data through SpotlightOnSpend as a free, optional and supplementary service for its local government customers. The hope is that this might help the company to win business, he explains, but it is not a money-spinner in itself.”

They are now promising to make the data available for download in its “raw form”, although it’s not clear what that will be. Adrian Short’s comment to the piece is worth reading.

Nevertheless, this is an issue that anyone interested in holding power to account should keep a close eye on. And to that aim, Chris has started an investigation on Help Me Investigate to find out how and why councils are giving access to their spending data. Please join it and help here.

(Comment or email me on paul at helpmeinvestigate.com if you want an invitation.)

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