[OpenSpending] Representing things in terms of other things?

Diego de la Mora diego at fundar.org.mx
Thu Apr 18 05:13:18 UTC 2013

During the last presidential debate, the guys from "Arena Electoral" made
this great infographic (http://www.arenaelectoral.com//opinion/detail/445)
showing the electoral budget for different parties related to Tsurus
(Andrés Manuel López Obrador, left wing candidate, was always very proud of
driving his white Nissan Tsuru).

They also compared the political parties electoral budget with the "Estela
de luz", the polemic monument built for the 200 anniversary of the Mexican
Independence and 100 anniversary of the Revolution.

At Fundar, we compare between budget allocations all the time: we search
for programs or government products (schools, medications) that are in the
line of advancing human rights and compare them to absurde or irrational
spendings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hTpMgYoMWk (sorry for the music,
we had to change it at the last minute for copyright reasons...).

So we mainly try to show irrational vs. human rights oriented budget and
also been exploring funny polemic comparisons.


Diego de la Mora Maurer
Área de Presupuestos y Políticas Públicas
Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación
Tel. + 52 (55) 55543001 x 119
Cel. 04455 3223 2797

2013/4/17 Jonathan Gray <jonathan.gray at okfn.org>

> Thanks for this Tony. I very much agree that this needs to be done in the
> right way. I was less flagging this specific article as a shining example
> of making comparisons (I only skimmed the examples), than using it as a
> 'hook' for a more general discussion to see if people had any cunning ideas
> about how something like this might be done.
> Do you have any thoughts about how this could be done? ;-)
> On 17 April 2013 20:38, Tony Bowden <tony at mysociety.org> wrote:
>> On 17 April 2013 20:14, Jonathan Gray <jonathan.gray at okfn.org> wrote:
>> > This recent story [1] made me wonder whether we could do something for
>> Open
>> > Spending (or even a separate little thing, related to OpenSpending) to
>> show
>> > big spending items in terms of other smaller or similar spending items?
>> I have a major problem with that Guardian article, in that it seems
>> more to promote financial illiteracy, presumably to score some cheap
>> political points. It pretends to be adding clarity as to what £10m is,
>> but instead simply perpetuates (and strengthens) standard
>> misconceptions.
>> So, to take the first example, £10m wouldn't really "pay for" 322
>> nurses. The cost of employing a nurse (or indeed anyone) is
>> considerably more than their salary. A general rule of thumb is than
>> an employee will usually "cost" 2x their salary. Secondly, it ignores
>> the critical distinction between one-off costs and recurring costs.
>> Simply stating that it's "for one year" doesn't really address the
>> sleight of hand inherent in pretending that these costs are
>> equivalent.
>> But I'd still be concerned even if the information were presented
>> differently (e.g. "Could employ 20 nurses for 10 years"). This still
>> only gives the _impression_ of useful context, by cherry-picking a
>> single number (the cost of a nurse), and making that number look much
>> bigger than it really is. (And using an emotionally charged
>> example[1], to boot, but that's a slightly different rant.)
>> Most people will instinctively think of 20 extra nurses see it in a
>> hyper-local context — in terms of a hospital they've been at recently,
>> or with reference to someone they know who's recently lost their job,
>> or the like. But out of ~400,000 nurses employed by the NHS, 20 (or
>> even 322) makes very close to zero difference.
>> A more accurate way of expressing the same number in the same context
>> is that £10m could increase the median nurse salary from £31,095 to
>> £31,100 for five years. But as that suddenly makes the £10m seem
>> small, rather than large, I suspect it doesn't fit the narrative the
>> Guardian are trying to put across.
>> And that's only the problem with looking at £10m against the fraction
>> of government spending that is nurses' salaries. Out of the full
>> £720bn, £10m is even smaller still. And any attempt to 'translate' the
>> numbers into something that people can understand, but which doesn't
>> convey *that*, is hindering, rather than helping.
>> Lest anyone misunderstand — I very much agree with Jonathan's
>> underlying idea here. Contextualisation of information, and in
>> particular of big numbers, is hugely important. But it's so important
>> that it needs to be done right — and a lot of how it's being done
>> these days is very far from right.
>> I also have no objection to the Guardian having a narrative they want
>> to get across here. I probably even agree with what they're saying.
>> But I *do* object to manner in which they're doing it, and, more
>> crucially, I think the Open Knowledge Foundation, or those of us doing
>> related things in similar fields, need to be even more careful not to
>> fall into these same sorts of traps.
>> Tony
>> [1] Doubly so by the wider context being highly charged too.
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> --
> Jonathan Gray <http://jonathangray.org/> | @jwyg <http://twitter.com/jwyg>
> Director of Policy and Ideas
> The Open Knowledge Foundation <http://okfn.org/> | @okfn<http://twitter.com/okfn>
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