Webinar Spotlight: How to Get Buy-In for Open Data Initiatives
Proposing, creating, and launching an open data initiative is often considered to be a technical project, but there is so much more to a successful launch. Stakeholders have to be convinced of the project’s merit, staff have to be trained to understand it, and media and the public need to be made aware of the new tools.
The city of Topeka, Kansas, recently went through this process when they launched Open Budget. On July 9, 2015, Socrata sat down with Sherry Schoonover, Deputy IT Director, to learn how Topeka planned for success from the very start of their initiative planning.
Some excerpts of our conversation are below, or click here to watch the entire 35-minute webinar.
Getting Internal Buy-In
Socrata: Tell us how you first presented the Open Budget initiative internally.
Sherry Schoonover: Once we got the vendor identified, I did a pilot. I found out a long time ago, rather than putting a project in a white paper and on whiteboards, I do a proof of concept or a pilot. It’s a lot easier to explain. We used the 2015 budget, since it was approved already. We re-categorized it into something that our public would understand, like Public Safety and Infrastructure, which are really, really hot topics around here. And then I loaded the first dataset and presented it to the city manager. His quote was, “I’ve never seen the budget displayed this way. I really like it.” So that was the first green light that we needed to move ahead.
Socrata: How did you present Open Budget to the City Council?
Sherry Schoonover: Well, there’s a couple of things that we did. First we ran it through the department directors, you know? Made sure that they liked it, that they understood the project. It’s another internal layer. I figured that if we can get buy-in from those guys, then City Council probably wouldn’t be quite as bad. And they liked it!
Then we did a real, official presentation to the city council. And as it turns out, they really liked it. We have new council members, and it’s easy for them to understand. They don’t have to carry all of the binders around that they normally do.
Socrata: Do you think showing budget trends was a pretty compelling point for the City Council?
Sherry Schoonover: Well I think so, but I think also that was really good for the public more so than for the council. Council sessions can get a little intense and they kind of get bogged down into the nitty-gritty. But one of the things we wanted to make sure, as the council was working on trying to figure out what our next funding is for 2016, is that the audience was able to follow along.
Presenting Initiatives to Citizens and the Media
Socrata: How did you present Open Budget to the citizens and to media?
Sherry Schoonover: Well that was kind of a little challenging because it’s one of those situations where every time you put a news release out, usually it’s bad news. So our internal communications team created a really, really cool video. It shows how you’re able to drill down to the smallest level of the budget. The video helped out a lot.
And then the other thing we thought was a good idea was inviting the media. Rather than just having a press conference or a news release, we actually asked them to come by for a show and tell. We wanted then to physically get hands-on. We walked them through Open Budget and showed them how easy it was to maneuver around and how to find things, and everybody loved it. The news releases and the TV and radio the next day, or the same day, reflected that they really thought it was a cool product.
Socrata: So you invited them actually to come to your office and look at it?
Sherry Schoonover: Yep, they were in my office! Normally I don’t have anything to do with the media, but in this particular case it was actually a good thing.