The return of the "armchair auditor"

About a million years ago, the then Coalition Government in the UK announced a slew of Open Data projects. They wanted - in their words - to "mobilise an army of Armchair Auditors". That is, ordinary people would be able to look through the data and find interesting errors.

I'm a civil servant (this is a personal blog) so I can't comment on the politics behind the idea. But I think it is fair to say that, over the years, it fell out of fashion. Open Data kept being published but very few people looked. Sure, there was the occasional news story where a journalist discovered that the Ministry for Paperclips had accidentally purchased a nuclear submarine on the corporate credit card. But crowdsourcing using the Internet was a very early-2000s idea and the mooted "army" never really materialised.

I thought it was, sadly, a dead concept. Until yesterday:

The UK compels all companies with 250 or more employees to publish data on their gender pay gap. Both public organisations and private companies have to do this.

And so, Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensom built a Twitter bot. Whenever a corporate Twitter account Tweets about International Women's Day - the bot quotes the Tweet with that organisation's gender pay gap.

The results have been beautiful!

There is an entire thread of accounts who were so ashamed of being called out that they deleted their Tweets:

There are a few (and only a few) organisations which have achieved parity.

And even fewer where the gap is negative.

You can argue about whether the data are accurate or meaningful. And you can argue whether a small gap in either direction is statistically significant. There's also a good thread about the impact of furlough on these statistics. It's also debatable as to whether this sort of action will result in meaningful change.

But what you can't argue with, is that this is the epitome of the "armchair auditor" concept. And I'm extremely glad it is back.

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