Towards an Open Government Budget for HK

The HK Budget is out. Open Data enthusiasts, engaged citizens and media are still reviewing the budget. The speech, figures, and now the data tell a story about what happened since last year and what is planned for this year. While others are looking between the lines, comparing totals from previous years, line spending of bureaux and departments, and new “sweeteners”, we are looking at the budget differently: at the format it is in and how everyone can better dive into it, better understand it, and have meaningful insight.
With the budget in a more open data-friendly format, more people can more easily review the budget, crunch the numbers, and get the answers they’re looking for. More is possible when people can get right into the budget without needing to scrape totals and dig up past budget totals and build spreadsheets and databases.
Last year the Financial Secretary’s Office (FSO) released the estimates figures as an Excel Spreadsheet file, and this year the estimates are released in a machine-readable CSV format. These are steps in the right direction to support a more accessible budget for better transparency and oversight of the budget. Open Data Hong Kong supports civic engagement and review of the budget, and part of our efforts is working with Code4HK on a “Hack the Budget Hackathon” for engaged citizen to apply their skills, interest and curiosity on the budget.
Few government documents have as much impact on the public as the government budget. It is important the budget is transparent, supports participation for decision making and policy making, for effective oversight and accountable review. The goalposts for these are changing. With rising levels of public capacity to review the work of government, technological tools to solve problems, and changing methods of engagement between government and the public, there are many opportunities for government budgets to report, engage and react:

  • Budget transparency – use open data formats to provide accurate quality detailed structured data;
  • Budget participation – remove barriers and conditions of use of the budget, and support fora (online and in-person) of public engagement of the budget;
  • Budget oversight – support mechanisms for timely updates, and means to address questions, policy recommendations, and review of government priorities and programs.

Governments around the world are moving in this direction, and so is Hong Kong. Projects like the Open Budget Survey rank and compare countries with links to budgets for comparison.
To better support public review of the budget, we submit the following 3 recommendations:

Unconditional: Remove any restrictive terms and conditions or licensing on budget data.

Currently the budget data is covered by the restrictive Data.One terms and conditions which include conditions such as “The Government reserves all rights that are not expressly granted in the Terms of Use” and “you shall not use the Data in any inappropriate, defamatory, obscene, or unlawful manner”. Even if the government won’t exert their power on this, the looming threat and control is not based on what is likely but what is possible.

Structured: Support structured data for better quality data and greater detail of totals;

A structured data format (ie: provide a schema and provide data in XML or JSON format) is richer better quality data. You can see where the totals come from, how they total up, and what fields are linked from where.

Historic data: provide past budgets in machine-readable format

Past budget data helps to review trends and comparability. Digging these numbers from currently available information is tedious and unreliable, requiring authoritative and consistent figures.
Earlier this month we presented to FSO our set of recommendations ahead of a discussion to realise this. See the presentation material (has some updates). We will continue to follow-up and provide advice and direction to achieving these goals.

Meet.26: Open Science, Hardware and Environment

The 26th ODHK gathering was a “meet the Open Science working group” special, with Cesar Harada as guest speaker on the topic of “Open Hardware for the Environment”. Cesar’s work covers many many flavours of open: open hardware, citizen science, open education, open environmental data collection, crowdsourcing, biohacking and more. Open Science probably is probably a good catch-all for many of these activities, so Scott Edmunds (the ODHK Open Science working group lead) started proceedings with an introduction (or rant) about where these areas fit in the Open Data pantheon, and what the “open” situation is in Hong Kong.

Cesar Harada (31 French-Japanese) is an inventor, Environmentalist and Entrepreneur working in Hong Kong.
Cesar is the CEO of Scoutbots, recently listed by Fast Company as one of China’s top 10 most innovative companies, is building shape-shifting sailing robots to collect ocean data. Cesar developed this new sailing technology on the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, after resigning from MIT where he was a Project Leader. Cesar will speak about his expeditions in Fukushima Japan to collect seabed radioactivity data, his teaching activities, working with young students in Hong Kong to develop plastic pollution sensors, DIY water contamination spectrometers and spectrofluorometers. Cesar is currently busy building Hong Kong’s largest makerspace a shared workshop / lab for Artists, Designers, Engineers and Scientists. Most of Cesar work both academic and commercial is Open Hardware, and we were fortunate to get a #101 on that topic, as well as hear about the other amazing work he has been doing. You can see Cesar’s slides here.

For more see this profile on Cesar in SCMP, as well as his TED talk on shape shifting robots and Protei.

Whether you’re already familiar with Open Data or just want to find out what it is, we welcome you all to come to our regular meetups. No technical skills required. Come out and meet fellow Hong Kong Open Data enthusiasts. Meet.27 will be on 31st March at Delaney’s Wan Chai, so watch this space for more details.


Monday, March 9, 7:15pm
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Meet.25: Open Data & Legislation

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  • Date: Monday, February 16, 7pm
  • Location: Delaney’s Wan Chai, 2/F, One Capital Place, 18 Luard Road, Wan Chai

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ODHK meets are back. At our first event of 2015 we look at the “Right to be Forgotten” legislation and other legislation and policies as they relate to Hong Kong. If you’re into politics, or you’re a policy wonk, or an engaged citizen interested in improving access to information, come out to Meet.25.
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The “Right to Be Forgotten” policy is under review by various governments around the world, and has been adopted broadly by the European Union, Argentina, and the United States. Recently Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner has recommended adopting the legislation for Hong Kong, and there’s been push back. Frankie Chu of InMedia will discuss how this legislation has implications for how information is managed online, as well as for open data and transparency.
We will also have a short discussion about other legislation that would help bolster open data in Hong Kong: Archive Law, Access to Information, and an Open Data Policy.


  • 7:00 Networking
  • 7:15 Opening up – what is Open Data, about ODHK (Bastien)
  • 7:30 “Right to be Forgotten legislation” – Frankie Chu (30 mins.)
    • About the legislation;
    • Relevance to HK
    • Q & A or moderated discussion
  • 8:00 Discussion: Open Data policies (Bastien)
    • Archive Law
    • Access to Information
    • Open Data Policy
  • Open Data News Roundup, Announcements & short demos of anything
  • Networking, mingling.

Whether you’re already familiar with Open Data or just want to find out what it is, come to our regular meetup. No technical skills required. Come out and meet fellow Hong Kong Open Data enthusiasts.


Monday, February 16, 7pm
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Delaney’s Wan Chai, 2/F, One Capital Place, 18 Luard Road, Wan Chai
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