[OpenSpending] Representing things in terms of other things?

Tony Bowden tony at mysociety.org
Thu Apr 18 12:15:06 UTC 2013

On 18 April 2013 14:58, Tony Bowden <tony at mysociety.org> wrote:
> What really matters in most cases is direct comparison, often in terms
> of movement and share. In terms of a country's budget, the raw numbers
> are pretty much unimportant[1]. What really matters if how much the
> (for example) health budget compares with (a) the defense budget
> (etc); (b) previous years' heath budgets; (c) the health budget in
> other countries.

Oops — I mean to come back and finish off this paragraph. It certainly
isn't mean to be an exhaustive list. There are also concerns like
whether the amount achieves its purpose — does the quality of health
care adequately reflect the amount being spent on it? But again, these
things are rarely about the actual amounts, as much as comparisons as
whether one is going up or down at a different rate to the other, etc.
("We're now spending X% more of our budget than 3 years ago on
health-care, but we've dropped 15 places in the Foo Bar and Baz
studies ranking countries by the quality of their care").

And in countries where health-care is funded directly out of a
specific pot (e.g. social taxes), rather than general taxation, there
are other interesting comparisons and calculations to play with, etc —
but again, the things that are most interesting is whether that's
running at a surplus or deficit, and what it means for the figures to
move in a certain direction etc., not the raw amounts.

I'm certainly open to persuasion that there other cases where the
amounts actually matter — I'd actually really love to see some good
examples where they do. And although this didn't start out with trying
to enumerate all the different things you might want to do with
overall health spending data (for example) — maybe there *should* be
such a list somewhere? Listing the key things that you could do with
different types of data, and showing examples (both good and bad) of
attempts to do so, seems like it could be a useful resource for people
involved in the field. Does anything like this already exist?


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