Tracking T&T Energy Revenue: There's an app for that!

Do you want an easier way to track T&T’s oil and gas revenue? There’s an app for that! And following a workshop to promote open data hosted by the T&T Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (TTEITI), there may soon be more than one.

TTEITI is part of a global initiative that promotes accountability and transparency by companies and governments involved in extractive industries, such as gas, oil, quarrying and mining. Held in partnership with the international non-profit BrightPath Foundation, the event attracted a diverse audience of technologists, new media practitioners and business innovators interested in software development for social change.

The workshop is part of the TTEITI secretariat’s ongoing efforts to publicise the contents of its first report, titled Making Sense of T&T’s Energy Dollars, published last September. The report provides independently reconciled figures for company payments and government revenues and receipts for fiscal year 2010 to 2011. Through its partnership with BrightPath, TTEITI was the first to have a mobile app created as part of the release of the report data.

Open access Mark Regis, head of the TTEITI Secretariat, credited BrightPath with providing the “ecosystem” of human and technical capacity needed to extract the technical and financial data contained in the lengthy, written report and convert it to a machine-readable format that can be used by interested software developers to build useful applications.

“What TTEITI needed was a way to get their information out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. And that’s exactly what the technology allows,” said BrightPath executive director, Bevil Wooding. “We recognised that this needed to be part of a much broader conversation about the need for greater openness in the publication of public data across all sectors, hence the idea to host the Open Data Workshop,” Wooding said.

“What we’ve done here for energy, can also be done for health, education, commerce, transport, works, national security and other areas where public data is not easily accessible to the public. This is technology being used for the greater good. That’s what we’re going after.”

Developers welcome The next step, Wooding said, is to encourage more young people, especially secondary school students with an interest in technology, to see themselves as having a valuable role to play in the open data movement for national development. Irwin Williams, a postgraduate Computer Studies student at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Computing and Information Technology and a professional software developer at Teleios Systems, facilitated the hackathon segment of the workshop.

“This was the first time a government agency presented its data in an open format and invited developers to come out and write apps on it,” Williams said in a blog post Friday. “The app that resulted from the process allowed us to even think about the data differently...I’m glad we were able to be part of what I hope to be the first of many such initiatives.”

By the end of the codesprint, Williams had guided participants to complete one app focused on the differences between Government’s expected receipts and companies’ reported payments. Participants committed to completing several other apps, all of which aim to make it easier for the average citizen to track how the country manages its natural resource wealth. Among the coders was Nigel Henry, founder and lead analyst of Solution By Simulation.

“The workshop opened my eyes to the fact that software development is a necessary link between data collection and public data analysis. I realise now that people who call themselves data scientists can and should play a part in creating mobile and desktop apps that allow interested persons who are not professional data analysts to manipulate data in useful ways,” Henry said. Henry said he previously wrote code as “just a personal hobby” but he now sees it as “a professional responsibility to contribute to national development.”

Follow the money “The concept of open data is totally in step with the essential mandate and core vision of EITI,” said Regis. “Following the data is following the money.” Regis described the open data workshop as the next logical step in TTEITI’s ongoing central mission to make information about wealth distribution more easily and permanently accessible to the entire population.

“People aren’t generally interested in reading about revenue figures. So they may not read our 70-page report or even the 12-page summary, but using the TTEITI app they can still get answers to specific questions about the country’s wealth.” T&T was the first country to release a mobile app as part of the publication of the internationally accessible report. Copies of the report can be downloaded via app, in the Google Play store.

The workshop took place Thursday at Kapok Hotel, Port of Spain. Presenters included Gerard Best, Guardian new media editor, Keisha Thomas, a UK-based open data researcher, and Dr Patrick Hosein and Dr Kim Mallalieu, both of The UWI St Augustine. TTEITI plans to hold several similar events in 2014.