Unlocking Transactions: 3 Examples of Open Expenditures in Action

October 8, 2015 8:59 am PST | Data as a Service, Public Finance

Governments have made huge strides when it comes to publishing open data, from sharing salaries to detailing where parking tickets occur. But unlike budgets and salaries, the transaction-level details of financial payments — the nitty-gritty details of paying the bills — often aren’t published online, even as a PDF.

Open Expenditures exposes transaction-level data, in a searchable, interactive format. Here’s how it works: Open Expenditures presents a graph of spending by year, with breakouts charts for the most popular categories, such as “top expense category” or “top vendor.” Drilling down is easy, and leads deeper into the trail of the money, from a list of top vendors, to a specific vendor, and then to a year’s worth of payments to that same vendor.

Today, we’re highlighting the groundbreaking work of three midwestern locales: the city of Davenport, Urbana County, and Macoupin County. All three municipalities have their expenditures on display, allowing staffers, businesses, journalists, and residents to better understand and analyze their government.

Davenport, Iowa

Davenport cuts its checks on Wednesday, and by Friday of the same week, the information is available online on Davenport’s Open Checkbook Toolbox. This portal combines near-real time data with historical information going back to 2012, giving both current information and important historical context. Viewers can choose to view data from a single year, or from every year where data is available.

Davenport Open Expenditures

With this chart, and Davenport’s frequent updates, it’s easy for residents — and staffers — to understand the current year’s spending against the year as a whole.

Urbana, Illinois

It takes only a quick glance, and a few intuitive clicks to uncover which department accounts for Urbana’s biggest spending: the public works, with nearly 20 million in the 2015 fiscal year. And it’s easy to dive deeper, and find out where that 20 million goes: from the 1.2 million required to maintain the county’s streetlights, to the nearly half million spent on transportation improvements.

Urbana Open Expenditures

The presentation of information makes it easy to reveal answers to common questions: Which vendor receives the most money? What departments spends the most? But as we’ll see in the next example, it’s just as easy to go beyond big picture questions to the details of individual payments.

Macoupin County, Illinois

Elsewhere in Illinois, Macoupin County also tracks and shares spending. For every vendor, department, or expense, users can always flip between a spending summary and checkbook view, with checkbook level details providing a transaction-by-transaction look at spending.

Macoupin County Open Expenditures

Here, for instance, you can see the dates and amounts for each of 2015’s four payments to Ishmael Construction, as well as the expense category for each transaction.

Open Expenditures Vendor DetailsFor finance folks, these details, as well as the options to sort, filter, and download this data, are invaluable.

Click on a vendor to see at-a-glance details, including a payment retrospective, contact information, and spending over time. The new Open Expenditures even includes details on other municipalities that use the same vendor — groundbreaking new analysis available to businesses and government purchasing officers.

With this information, the door opens for collaboration between business and government — and can also encourage vendors to provide competitive bids, or different municipalities to combine forces to pursue joint purchasing contracts.


Curious for more? Explore Socrata for Finance, and see how opening the books allows governments and policymakers — as well as citizens and businesses — to have easy access to vital, actionable information.


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