Code for South Africa has come up with a very useful (and dare we say, smart) data resource to help residents understand how the local government will be spending their hard-earned taxes.

As anyone who has sat through a budget can testify, they’re not really what you’d call exciting to listen. The metro’s 2015/16 budget speech, tabled last week by executive mayor Patricia de Lille, was no exception. While the information it contained was undeniably important, listening to it live and reading it later online can bring on a bout of narcolepsy.

Most budget speeches are usually just published verbatim online and left up to us to scan through and break down for ourselves. But now, with help of the Cape Town Budget Project website, you can view a map that shows how much of the city’s R37.5 billion budget will be spent in each and every ward for the financial year as well as how much will be spent on projects and services such as sanitation, health, transport, safety and security.

The site was co-created by social activist organisations Ndifuna NkwaziCode for South Africa and the International Budget Partnership during data literacy workshops facilitated by the School of Data and Code for South Africa held in Cape Town and Johannesburg last September.

“In its current state, we just wanted to get a geographic idea of where money was being spent on capital projects. We focused on capital instead of operational spending because it shows long term investment and not short term stop gap measures — which is how they generally spend money on informal settlements,” Shaun Russell, ICT researcher at Ndifuna Nkwazi said in a statement.

Russell says that the mapping part of the analysis is limited to the City’s capital budget, because this was the only part which was published with clear geographical data. He’s hoping to expand the map to other parts over time, but there are infographics with data from the operating budget on the site.

Previously, all budgets were available in PDF documents published on the City of Cape Town’s website, which wasn’t very detailed and quite a chore to sort through. Freeing this data from the shackles of PDF publishing makes it more accessible and, in turn, reusable by others who want to build on the activists’ work.

“Every year the mayor calls for residents to participate in the budget process by making submissions on Cape Town’s draft budget. Last year fewer than forty people wrote submissions and only 23 were from the public. This has been the trend for the last couple of years,” said Axolile Notywala, from the Social Justice Coalition.

“It is a R37.5 billion budget that affects all of our lives. The amount of money that gets allocated to Khayelitsha makes the difference between five or ten families having to share a toilet. It determines whether we feel safe at night with street lights that work.”

Over 500 submissions alone were received from residents in the Khayelitsha township this year.

“This project demonstrates how design and technology can be used to make complex issues clearer to the public”, said former School of Data fellow, Hannah Williams.

“Budgets are released as unwieldy documents that few people have the time or technical knowledge to read and understand, even though it’s something that affects everyone directly. You can’t have active citizens if people don’t have access to information,” she said.

Visit the Cape Town Budget Project to view all the data, including the interactive ward budget map.

//Updated 2nd June: Originally this story said that the Budget Project was part of a City of Cape Town initiative. In fact, it was an independent Code4SA and Ndifuna Nkwazi project completed without any input from the City. Apologies to Ndifuna Nkwazi and all involved and salutations for your hard work.

[Image – CC 3.0 BY-SA PhillipNN]