How 3 Innovative Cities Make Budgets Easy
April 30, 2019 by
Ask anyone on the street what a city spends annually for pothole repairs, and they'll likely say it's not enough. Chances are slim you'll hear a dollar figure or a year-over-year comparison.
For the layman, government budgets can appear as complex, dense documents, rather than useful roadmaps of an organization's annual priorities and performance.
Forward-thinking government officials not only publish data in its raw form but they also provide a way for the public to understand and use the data through maps, visualizations, APIs to remix and reuse the information, and user-friendly apps that engage people with government. By sharing a dollar-by-dollar view into the budget, elected officials and department managers can demystify the complexity and questions around government finances with ease.
The city of Seattle takes an advanced approach to its financial transparency site. The city breaks down expenditures by service, such as arts and culture, education and human services, and neighborhood development. By drilling into the categories, users can see what percentage of the budget an amount represents. For example, the city's neighborhoods and development services account for about 3 percent of the city's operating budget.
See the data in action
Socrata Open Budget was designed to move users through the entire budgeting process in an engaging way by showing the data in dynamic, interactive charts. The app allows users to follow the lifecycle of the budgeting process. It was built to help the public, and even internal government employees, understand everything that goes into a government's budget, including the operating budget, capital budget, capital projects, and priorities.
When designing its suite of financial transparency tools, which also includes Open Payroll and Open Expenditures, Socrata worked closely with public sector technology and finance teams to learn about government budget and spending data practices. Socrata also obtained feedback from members of the public to ensure the objective of empowering the public with financial data was met.
The city of Chattanooga uses Socrata Open Budget for an innovative approach to finances. Its site, hosted on Chattadata, shows the budget with standard views by department or office, as well as broken down by priority areas and results such as safer streets, stronger neighborhoods, high-performing government, smarter students and stronger families, growing economy, and essential costs.
Chattanooga Open Budget view
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, for example, showcases its Open Budget app, powered by Socrata, front and center on the landing page for the city's open data portal. The app gives details into 11 functions represented in the city budget, including public safety, cultural and recreation, and capital improvement projects. Las Vegas uses another app, powered by Socrata, called Open Checkbook, that shows checkbook-level spending details, including details on vendors payments for traffic improvements and other public works projects.
Las Vegas Open Budget view
It's not just local governments that need to share financial information, counties and states are facing the same challenges. Massachusetts' state financial transparency site, CTHRU, is a leading example of government innovation. The site, which is powered by Socrata, reached 3 million pageviews by the end of 2018, tripling its reach in nine months. The Comptroller makes almost weekly enhancements to the financial transparency platform. Along with statewide budgeting and spending, it also shows payroll data, state and teacher retirement benefits, and executive branch new hire data.
Massachusetts CTHRU view