Mapping the Publics of Public Finance

Team Members: Jonathan Gray, Anna Alberts, Cecile Le Guen, Eileen Wagner, Danny Lämmerhirt, Lucie Sedmihradská, Sergej Lugovic,


While the topic of EU budget and spending affects citizens and policies across many areas, it is rarely broached in the media or in advocacy. Thus we have on the one hand stakeholders that could encompass an entire political spectrum, and on the other very few existing channels and platforms that would make traditional outreach meaningful. The publics that gather and disperse around particular issues in time would not be captured by the traditional methods. This report aims to provide guidelines and methods to map and engage with fluid stakeholders as well as publics around the issue of public budget taking test-cases of the EU-budget, the UK spending review, and the network of transparency organisations in the Czech Republic. The results of this report inform the development of, an open data portal rendering the budget of the European Union more transparent, useable and understandable.

Aligned with the objectives of the Open Budgets’ project, this research employs digital methods of the DMI Winterschool in order to discover latent audiences and publics for the project and extend the current networks, and second, to concentrate on the known actors and target audiences of The discovery of these audiences and publics requires a combination of conventional participatory stakeholder methods and new digital stakeholder mapping tools, that is digital methods. For this project a team of 9 students plus representatives from Open Knowledge Germany, Open Knowledge International, and the University of Economics in Prague worked together.

Initial Data Sets

We focused on two specific aspects of European budget: the overall European budget, that is the EU Budget and a specific part of this budget that amounts to about one third of the European budget: the European Structural and Investment Funds. For these two terms, correllating search queries in French, German, Czech, Dutch, and Italian have been identified to explore differences across Google's domains. Additionally we used a selection of Dutch, German and French media outlets in Lexis Nexis to identify media reporting. In order to identify actor alignments with the issue crawler, a URL list of lobby groups lobbying within the European Union's institutions on budget-related topics has been retrieved using the European Transparency Register. This list was complemented by an expert list of Czech advocacy organisations working on public spending. In order to analyse Twitter, a collection of 300,000 tweets has been gathered during the UK spending review in November 2015, allowing for a precise analysis of a national debate around budgets. This review was established in the late 1990s by then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in order to establish spending priorities and limits. The 2015 Spending Review was the first of its kind since the Conservative Party won the elections in May 2015, outlining “how £4 trillion of government money will be allocated over the next five years”.

The data set about the UK’s 2015 Spending Review had been collected in advance from 2015-11-25 11:00:00 to 2016-01-07 00:00:00. The hashtags “#AutumnStatement2015”, “#spendingreview”, “#SR15” were used to configure the capture on TCAT. This gave a total of 306,311 tweets from 118,714 distinct users.

Research Questions

The objective of this research is to study democratic engagement around public finances through the analysis of a variety of different digital platforms - including social media, news media and the web. We aimed at extracting and analysing data from different online spaces in order to get a richer empirical picture of who cares about public finances and what their interests are. Following this objective the research aims to answer following questions:

1) Who is engaged around fiscal policy on national or EU level on digital media? Which publics of fiscal policy are most prominent, and which are more marginal?

2) How are they engaged? And how might this engagement be studied?

Ultimately, we’d like to understand which kinds of topics are associated with fiscal policy in different online spaces - from climate change to migration to international development.

Methodology and Findings

Search engine results

Our search engine study was done on the following query terms related to the EU’s budget: The first step was to identify the official translation of these terms into the five languages that were examined: French, German, Czech, Dutch, and Italian. Next, research browsers in the respective languages were set up, and query results were documented in a spreadsheet. Two sets of data (["European Structural and Investment Fonds"] (short: ESIF) and ["EU budget"]) were then categorised according to the type of sectors the actors belonged to (public, private, CSO, media, research) and the level on which they operated (regional, national, EU). For the term “EU budget”, the additional category of issue/topic was used to specify the overall content of the site. This process is called “coding”. Results were visualised using color-coded lists (see figures 1a and 1b).

Figure 1a: Tracing “budget speak” in search engine results – top 30

Figure 1b: Tracing “budget speak” in search engine results – top 100

Lexis Nexis media mapping

For the media mapping with Lexis Nexis, we extracted and investigated news articles on the EU budget. We limited the results from the database to British and Dutch press in print, which means we downloaded all articles from Dutch, German, and UK newspapers between 2012 and 2015 that include the term ‘EU budget’ or, for the German and Dutch papers, ‘EU-Haushalt’ and ‘EU-begroting’ respectively. 1 The frequency of mentions can be seen in the following graph.


Figure 2: News coverage of the EU budget in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands 2012-2015

There are only few articles about the EU budget in Dutch and English papers. However, as evidenced by the chart, there are some spikes in the number of articles written about the EU budget. This suggests that reporting on issues related to the EU budget are driven by larger events. When looking at the use of the terms in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands, October and November 2012 stand out the most. There is a peak in early October when the British prime minister David Cameron made clear that he was not afraid to veto the proposal for the budget of the EU for the years 2014 to 2020, if the budget would increase above inflation. To a lesser extent this also caused a peak in the Dutch media, since a veto would have consequences for the entire EU.

As the EU summit of 22.-23.11 in 2012 came closer, the media kept reporting about the EU budget. Cameron stood by his position on the EU budget, and German chancellor Angela Merkel visited him on the 7th of November. In the build-up to the actual summit, Cameron was under political pressure in his own country. There is also more reporting in the Netherlands, as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte backs Cameron in his stance on the budget. This would explain the peak on 22 and 23 November when the summit takes place. The negotiations failed, leading to extensive writing about what would happen next.

At the end of October 2014, there is a major peak in the United Kingdom, but not in the Netherlands. The reason: the United Kingdom had to pay an after-tax to Brussels, and Cameron refused. The Netherlands also had to pay, and they did, which means there was no commotion to report on.

A closer look at the kind of publishers reveals a difference in the quality of the articles. Whereas Dutch media offers fewer articles, they mostly come from specialist papers (AD, De Telegraaf, NRC Handelsblad, Trouw and de Volkskrant), while the British papers are often tabloids (e.g. The Sun, Daily Express, and Daily Mail). The dataset on LexisNexis also allows a detailed analysis of the authors of articles related to the EU budget. For example, Marc Peeperkorn and Stéphane Alonso are by far the more prolific Dutch reporters on the issue.

For the hyperlink analysis, we compared issue networks around Czech CSOs by top Google results and expert lists. We performed a simple co-link analysis and visualised the result in Gephy (see figures 3 and 4). It is evident that the relationship between CSOs in the expert list were much stronger than the one from the Google search results.

Figure 3: List of actors associated with “EU budget” in