Meet Virginia Beach: From Data Pioneer to Digital City Winner
The city of Virginia Beach is an open government pioneer, with a long, rich history of transparency. “Our mayor and city manager firmly believe that Virginia Beach is stronger when our citizens are well-informed and our leaders have access to the best data possible. Socrata is helping us do both,” says Catheryn R. Whitesell, Director of the Strategy, Transparency, Innovation & Resiliency Office.
In 2003, Virginia Beach opened the first Freedom of Information office in the commonwealth. More recently, the city launched an Open Budget site to share details about revenue and expenditure, as well as an Open Performance site, which provides information on performance metrics and goals. At the start of this year, Mayor Will Sessoms declared it the “Year of Connectivity” and as 2016 draws to a close, the city’s efforts to support that mission — including installation of a money-saving fiber optic network connecting 60 government facilities — have been rewarded with a first-place award in the Center for Digital Government’s 2016 Digital Cities Survey.
The Transparency Efforts Continue
With the launch of OpenVB Data Portal, the city is sharing 14 datasets, with information on crime data, employee salaries, restaurant inspection results, and more. Until now, all of this valuable information was locked away on dozens of government computers, where it was difficult to access for both staffers and interested residents, journalists, and local business owners.
“We’re cracking open databases to ferret out problem areas — and success stories. Soon, we will form teams to break down department silos and tap the numbers. We’ll look for new ways to serve residents better,” says Whitesell.
Virginia Beach is one of the participants in the Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities, which supported the city’s launch of the portal. For a city already comfortable with sharing rich, informative data with residents, the portal allows even more ease of access.
“Using the power of Socrata, people can be informed and engaged in the fascinating yet complex details of city government.”
Whitesell comments, “If you keep an open mind, the data can lead you places you don’t expect. That’s the fun part. We think our citizens will like the results.” With all the information available on the site — both the positive stories, and the numbers that are ripe for improvement — Virginia Beach residents will get a view into the data behind the government’s actions. The city hopes the data will be used to spark innovation, inform the decision-making process, and promote civic engagement.