How to Use Feedback to Tailor Your Open Data Program

September 9, 2015 4:00 pm PDT | Data as a Service, Public Finance

On August 13, we hosted a webinar featuring the city of Providence’s efforts on open data, specifically, how they implemented and adapted Open Budget to better meet the use of the city’s staff and citizens.

 Participants from Providence, Rhode Island, included:

  • Jim Silveria, Chief Information Officer
  • Nicole Pollock, Chief Innovation Officer
  • Mark Johnson, Data Administrator

The Goals

Providence has focused on open data and transparency for several years. Jim Silveria, the Chief Information Officer for Providence, served on a commission that recommended an open data site. Soon afterward, they added their budget. One of the goals was to increase data accessibility for public and media, but the city of Providence also sought to improve government overall.

  • The city of Providence made a goal to launch their open budget site by July 1 — the start of the fiscal year. Mark Johnson, Providence’s Data Administrator, worked with the finance department and Socrata to make this happen.
  • They wanted to make sure the data structure and details were easy to understand, especially the categories and amounts.
  • Another big goal was to reduce paper production. In the past, the city of Providence printed budget information for internal departments, council, the media, and other key stakeholders. This saved significant time and money.

Implementation

It was easy to determine which dataset they would include at launch. Socrata provided a schema, including high level spending down to top level department, and sub-level department to individual account level. Fortunately, this matched their internal data structure well, so they were able to easily export data. They decided to share proposed budget and approved budget for the current fiscal year as well as the past four years.

Gathering Internal Feedback

Before the launch, Providence did a lot of testing with internal departments, especially finance. This initial internal feedback was positive and helpful. For example, people wanted a different way to view the data. Instead of seeing payroll for one department, they wanted to see payroll for the entire city. Socrata added a new feature that they adopted, which allowed for filters by category or department.

Other requests included more breakouts of data from the top level. For example, the payroll expenditure was by far the biggest. It included salary, benefits, and retirement contributions. So they broke it out by those three areas to better explain the allocations.  

When the Open Budget launched, people were impressed that the city was able to share the budget information at the start of the fiscal year. A feedback tool on the site allows users to easily share comments; Mark Johnson, the Data Administrator, receives an alert with every comment submitted.

What’s In the Future?

  • They’re going to add the actual budget so that people can compare with the approved budget. They want to include their budget forecast for the next four to five years.
  • They also want to do more marketing around next fiscal year — to increase the number of citizens to engage with the open budget site.

Overall, the city of Providence continues to meet its data accessibility and transparency goals as well as moving the bar farther and farther up.

Click here to watch the full webinar on using feedback to tailor an open data program. And to learn more about the benefits of opening the books for governments of all sizes, download our new, free eBook, “Three Challenges That Governments Are Solving With Open Financial Data.”

 

Download Socrata’s financial transparency eBook

 


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