New viz tool helps citizens control city budgets

29 April 2015, Lviv – "So, you mean all data? All in this graph?" – Lviv journalists did not believe their eyes, whilst going through the budget visualization tool presented in the municipality. Today, city budget data in Lviv was morphed into interactive infographics: a fruit of work done by the Lviv municipality and UNDP through the Open Budget tool designed to make understanding of a complex city budget data easier by the common citizenry.

According to the International Budget Partnership, Ukraine ranks 54th out of 100 countries in terms of budget transparency and accountability at the national level, opening only a limited volume of budget information.
The situation at the local level may be seen as somewhat better but not radically so. The majority of Ukrainian municipality websites do contain some information on local treasuries. Yet, it is displayed – at best – as complicated files littered with nuanced financial terminology, unclear to the ordinary citizen, and with zero interactivity or visualization. An average major city budget database file contains over 11,600 data rows (1,150 print pages) with 353,000 digits. Only digits without any explanations. Because of this, citizens and local journalists rarely feel that budgeting data is actually open and thus do not take an active part in forming or monitoring their city budgets.
Therefore, the UNDP-supported Open Budget tool was eagerly implemented by Lviv, which keeps the issue of e-governance among its priorities. The western Ukrainian metropolis published all of its annual USD 178 million municipal-level data visualized through this tool for both incomes and expenditures. Now, anyone of 730,000 citizens may find out which square in the city is planned for renovation and how much do kindergartens spend to stack up on medicines or plan to spend on electricity bills this year. If a journalist covering the issues of healthcare decides to track how much has been spent over the last 4 years on provisions purchased for local hospitals that also is possible: the data opened includes budget indicators for the timespan between 2012 and 2015 and presents the dynamics with scale of up to 1 month.
Needless to say, source data is downloadable, and the system itself is based on open source code uploaded to GitHub under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. Many more improvements to be done, including school-by-school comparisons and daily updates on amounts of local taxes collected, all in the works at this point of time.
"The Open Budget tool allows you to visualize the distribution of city resources between different areas. Our key requirement was to make sure that the visualization was simple and easy for understanding by the ordinary citizen. Deeper budget detailing will be our next step," explained Andriy Moskalenko, Head of the "Administration of the Mayor" department.
UNDP launched the Open Budget initiative in May 2014, when, during the local consultations with community representatives from three pilot cities (Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Zhytomyr), the expectations and wishes were discussed with regards to the data citizens want to know about their city budgets. It was found that most of the residents wanted to know what's behind the numbers and codes of the budget classification, and information on the stages of the budget process and its results.

In response to this request, the integrated tool of budget data visualization and demonstration of budget cycle was developed consisting of two components:
• Budget visualization (up to 10 types of visualization for both revenues and expenses of the city budget).
• Calendar of the budget cycle (budget estimation and drafting, public discussion, approval, execution and reporting).
"The UNDP-supported open-source visualization tool is now available online at At this site, following the simple registration procedure, representatives of any municipality can upload their city budget files and get the embed code for adding the budget data visualization for their official web site," said Yuliya Shcherbinina, UNDP Senior Programme Manager. 
In course of the presentation Andriy Moskalenko, director of the department "City Mayor's Administration" of Lviv City Council, explained which information the tools showed, and how to "read" and interpret the data. He also informed about the steps which were undertaken by the municipality for further simplification and improving transparency of the budget process.
The budget visualizer is now used by Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Zhytomyr municipalities. Other cities have also recently started lining up for making their budget information more accessible and clear to their constituencies.
The next day, after the official presentation of the budget visualization tool, UNDP and the Lviv City Council co-organized an open-space "Budget Get-Together" with over 30 activists, journalists, and CSO representatives. Everyone interested had an opportunity to tune into this event online. Participants discussed the immediate steps in implementing the easy-to-use visualization tool of budget data and a budget calendar, as well as capacity building of civil society to interpret and use data.
Thanks to spearheading the adoption of this tool by Lviv and other cities, budget openness and transparency soon may become not just an act of good will, but an essential attribute of municipal governance, leading to further dialogue, trust, and cooperation.