City of Virginia Beach Makes Waves with Collaborative Open Data Projects

April 20, 2016 9:14 am PST | Public Finance

The city of Virginia Beach is making waves among municipal governments in the Commonwealth of Virginia for how it has embraced data-driven government. For the second year in a row, Virginia Beach used Open Budget to share their revenue and expenditures. Now, they’re launching an Open Performance program — one of the first in Virginia — to use data to improve accountability with citizens.  

“We feel very strongly that local government needs to be able to explain the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of government services to its community. One way to do that is through transparency and through telling the story of government by clearly stating performance metrics and goals,” says Catheryn Whitesell, Director of Budget and Management Services for Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach’s program is particularly noteworthy because it’s a collaborative program, bringing together several different city offices to ensure program success, which is no small feat in any municipality, let alone the Commonwealth’s second biggest. The project brought together the Budget Office, the City Manager’s Office, and the Department of Communications and Information Technology. Additional departments have also been engaged and are contributing metrics and data to the growing cause.

The city became interested in ways to drive transparency and leverage data-focused governance tools in 2015. The City Manager’s Office, in close partnership with Office of Management and Budget, set the tone for success by seeing the movement to open data as part of long-term evolution for the city. Starting with a simple, yet highly impactful, area like the budget has provided a strong foundation for the city to continue to evolve and embrace broader efforts.  

“As a new City Manager, I want to see open data help improve the public’s understanding of how we administer government. Being able to open up transparency between legacy IT systems and between departments will help us identify opportunities to streamline processes and to work smarter. Demonstrating efficient service delivery is key to maintaining public trust. Open data is a valuable tool to accomplish this,” says Dave Hansen, Virginia Beach City Manager.

The Open Budget program, for example, enables citizens to review, compare, download, visualize, and analyze budget data down to the line item level across revenue, expenditure, and capital improvements and by department, budget unit, or fund. Earlier this year, in a continuation of its 2015 push into transparency, the city invited citizens to try their own hand at tinkering with and balancing the proposed 2016-2017 budget via an online budget simulation.

From their initial focus on budget, Virginia Beach expanded its thinking around data-driven government to bridge its budget content into a more robust and contextualized initiative. Thus, helping people track and measure their cities progress through their evolving Open Performance initiative. Virginia Beach is working hard to be a civically responsible government with an ongoing initiative that brings together many areas from the City Council’s 2040 Vision across communities and departments.  

Future plans exist for enhanced internal and departmental focus on performance management. Through its newly established Data Board, the city is identifying opportunities to open a wide variety of datasets. The process is methodical — data is shared with internal stakeholders first both to ensure accuracy, and that there is a clear understanding of what the data is showing.

According to Matt Arvay, the city’s Chief Information Officer, “The performance management initiative aligns to two strategic pillars in the city’s Master Technology Plan, Transforming Service Delivery and Building Better Business Solutions, and is a critical component for governments who see the value in making data-driven decisions and creating highly effective government through more efficient processes.”

What can other municipalities learn from Virginia Beach’s experience with data-driven government?

  • Start with a simple project where you can demonstrate value to citizens and drive success. This provides the technical foundation and community momentum needed to tackle more complex data.  
  • Collaborate: Form a coalition of stakeholders at the beginning of the first project. Recognize that it’s not just a department project because they hold the data, nor is it just an IT project because it needs to go online.
  • Define the vision for growth. Starting simply shouldn’t limit the vision for data-driven government. Defining scope for a broader-based program should be part of the planning phase and part of the plan that’s reviewed on a regular basis.

To learn more about how data-driven government can drive citizen engagement, download our Open Performance Guide.

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