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Learning about the COINS database: a few useful links


A couple of weeks ago the government did something really significant. No, it wasn’t anything to do with the Big Society – significant though that may be. It was the release of one enormous database, known as COINS.

Essentially COINS (and I do really like writing it in capitals) is the detail on everything the government in the UK spends at every single level.

The treasure trove of information is so big it’s caused people considerable trouble to download, but if you can make sense of the thousands and thousands of entries almost every expert agrees COINS is the grand prize, the data release most likely to transform our understanding of government.

I won’t bother saying much more, because there’s, frankly, not that much to say. It’s going to take a long time to get our heads round the database. But, if you’re interested in finding out more about how it will be used and is being used, here are some interesting links to keep you going.

The basics:

  • This helpful explanation from HM Treasury should clear up some of the basic questions about COINS – what it is, how the data has been presented and who might find it useful. Since there’s so much complex informationn, HM Treasury reckons it might be more useful to organisations, rather than individuals. This, gulp, 31-page PDF gives you a full description of how to understand COINS.
  • The Guardian, which to its enormous credit has been at the vanguard of the fight to open up government data, has followed the release closely. This post does a good job of summming up what it’s all about.
  • Here’s Alpine Interactive‘s visualisation of spending by department that gives you some impression of what COINS can be used for, too.
  • But, perhaps most impressively and most excitingly, you can get to grips with COINS by looking at Wheredoesmymoneygo’s online search tool for the database.
  • This excellent blog post will explain what the most important fields in COINS actually mean. And the Guardian has a glossary of terms here.

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