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Posts tagged ‘Open government’

Transparency: A Tale of Three Cities

Although the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Conference is more than a week behind us, I got a chance this week to reflect on my notes.  In addition to the How to Measure a High Performing Finance Office session that I blogged about last week, I attended another powerful session on transparency.  The panelists represented small, medium, and large municipalities which provided an interesting perspective of how resources may vary, but impact on citizens remained top priority.

The City of Sunrise, AZ offers their citizens a “closer look at the city’s books” with a portal called “It’s Your Money“.  Dig into this site and you’ll find easy to access information about all expenditures per department.  And as media requests for salary information remain one of the top FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) inquiries, it makes sense that Surprise puts the information out there instead of spending administrative hours per individual request.

The City of Jackson, MS is embracing open data and the idea that it can be used to create a sense of community.  Check out the JackStats site to learn about downtown development, employment opportunities and financial stability to name a few.  It not only provides the data and dollars spent, but it shows the status of the goal and if it was achieved.  An “open book” allows citizens to feel more engaged and part of the solution.

The City of Los Angeles, CA is striving to meet aggressive open data goals and even open checkbook objectives. Their payroll department alone oversees the pay of 45,000 employees.  And if you want to peruse through this information you just visit the Payroll Explorer website.

Their stats across all facets of the city are fascinating and dive into areas you wouldn’t even think of on your own.  Did you know that their data shows that UPS and FedEx are the top two offenders for parking tickets?  I know, that’s not surprising, I mean how else are they going to get us our packages on time? However, when they looked at the data even closer they were able to determine that this is equivalent to needing 12 Full Time Employees just to manage the parking tickets for these two companies.

Transparency plays a pivotal role in our lives.  The more information we have about our community and surroundings, the better we can advocate for what we need.  And cities can respond with data-driven decisions.

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Thinking like an innovator – One county’s story

Who knew government finance could be so cool? After attending the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Annual Conference this week, I have to say I saw some pretty innovative best practices from a variety of cities and counties. Like the Town of Cary, NC and it’s advanced meter reading, or the City & County of Denver creating efficiencies with Lean principles, and the City of Minneapolis making better decisions with predictive analytics. But there was one initiative that really had that “wow” factor. It was the Montgomery County, MD’s Open Data project. This new site, called dataMontgomery, gives citizens and employees alike visibility into budgets that puts transparency at a whole new level.dataMontgomery pic 1
dataMontgomery is a tool that makes reading financial data fun and interesting. How can that be you ask? Well, for one, it’s visually appealing. You can choose to look at the data in different views (charts, graphs, etc…). And coming soon, you’ll be able to drill down into each department’s costs, even down to project level spending. Another thing is, its user friendly. The data can be exported or used right on the site. They also have reports already created and ready to be viewed in multiple formats. Public requests for data – no problem!

Meaningful data is unfortunately a rarity in more than just government, but around the world. We keep hearing the term “big data”, but all that data is useless without a tool or resource to help you understand it. An open data tool, such as dataMontgomery, can benefit not just the external customers (citizens, media, etc…), but also internal customers (employees). Think of the knowledge gained by making data-driven decisions. Time, money, and resources that can be reallocated to more fulfilling initiatives. And the satisfaction that they (employees) are serving the community in a purposeful way.  What a wonderful world that would be.

Open Data – Can citizens and government employees work together?

If you attended the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) annual conference this week, then you know citizen engagement is becoming a growing theme in local government.  Why?  Well, for one thing, with limited resources it makes sense to tap into the community when so many are willing to play a role.  And cultivating data is a great place to start.  Governments have so much data; more than they know what to do with or have the bandwidth to analyze.  The concept of open data is to provide transparency and create an environment of “open government”.  Data can hold many thought-provoking discoveries for educative purposes.  All it takes is the right people to unleash its powers.  Street Bump

Take the City of Boston for example.  They encourage their residents to take an active role in bettering their neighborhoods and community with the City of Boston Open Government site.  One really cool project they are piloting is something called “Street Bump”, created through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.  Street Bump is an innovative app that actually counts the number of bumps you hit on your commute through your phone.  Residents are the ones collecting the data and serving it up to the Mayor’s office.  Think of how much more efficient the app is than taking complaint calls about pot holes. The city can actually proactively go out and fix the problem.

Now this brings us to the question of can citizens and government employees work together?  Employees are public servants who are paid to serve the community.  And citizens are recipients of these services, whether good or bad.  But when it comes down to it, the community is what they both care about.  So why couldn’t they work together to make it better?   The answer is, they can, and they are!  As Beth Simone Novack, founder and director of the Governance Lab, said during her keynote presentation at the ICMA 99th Annual Conference, “Local government staffs have jobs that allow them to do work that matters. Most citizens want to do things that matter too. Data availability offers them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution”.

 Government employees are in a unique position to partner up with citizens to use data to bring solutions to real problems.  Keep your eyes open for more amazing things coming out of the move towards greater citizen engagement.

To read more about open data/open government and Beth Simone Novack’s keynote session, visit: Smart Communities and the Opportunities of Big Data