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Five Tips for The Trip (Downtown) to Government Finances

In yesterday’s online training, “Full Disclosure: How Governments Can Best Display Financial Transparency to the Public,” audience members visited the City of Chattanooga – virtually of course – to get a glimpse into the City’s brand new Open Budget Application – launched only three days ago as a subset of their already welcomed Open Data Portal – with the mission to learn how to set priority on open data for an open government.

But with any trip comes the implemental process of finding friends to tag along, those side-of-the-road stops when things get messy, and the satisfaction of knowing the next trip you
plan will be even better after the many lessons learned. Let’s take a look at how you can arrive to a State or City of openness.

Let another friend tag along, even if you don’t have the room

Everyone knows four can fit comfortably in a back seat made for three and the same can be said for the team looking to initiate an open data portal. While the City of Chattanooga had the support from Mayor Andy Berke – who’s campaign platforms included transparency and accountability, Code for America fellows to help run the Open Data Policy, and the Knight Foundation Information Challenge grant, Jenny Park, The City’s Strategic Capital Planner, describes finding the resources required to get to finance transparency as “scrapping things together – using everything you have available to you, working five hours a week while in other positions until there was a budget for a person to do this full-time”.

Find the ultimate weekender

Determining what to pack for any trip is always tough. Should you buy an entire new wardrobe or work with what you’ve got? Should you have a separate carry-on or every thing in one place? The same can be said for prioritizing factors of existing datasets to include in internal database portals made available to the public. The City of Chattanooga decided to work hand-in-hand with the library – who can view city data as a digital collection of local history as well as perform outreach to local groups – to “keep the data where it makes sense to have it,” according to Vickie Haley, Deputy Administrator Department of Finance and Administration for the City. In addition to finding the perfect partnership and location for old datasets, make new datasets open by default and available in a format that can be found easily – just like how you would want your headphones in your ears instead of climbing in the back seat and digging through your bag mid trip.

Avoid Road-bumps

Outside of the typical road-bumps that can cause a lesser than smooth trip, you have to worry about the challenge of convincing people to share their personal space with others for a significantly long time. Those “territorial feelings” riders have are also what Jenny describes as the cultural challenge and mindset that data belongs to departments. Adapting to financial data changes and presenting operating budget in both the traditional form and priority areas – mapping capital projects by locations and representing neighborhood investments overtime – are some additional open budget implementation challenges The City of Chattanooga faced that you can also avoid.

Flash (when appropriate)

Everyone loves a good flash here and there to spice up a long road-trip. Similarly to how flashing draws attention to your group of friends, with the digital divide amongst community members it’s important to seek creative solutions for your open data portal, specifically addressing the budget incremental process. “Anything you do to get information out to more people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested or aware in the budget process will hopefully spread to their neighbors and friends,” explained Jenny when answering how to help the non-computer savvy individuals get on board. As far as if flashing receives positive or negative responses, the city received positive local press for open data initiatives like Brigade projects and hackathons, as well as questions from citizens of “When are you going to put X dataset on there”? This positive feedback gives The City of Chattanooga enjoyment to continue to add to the open data portal and open expenditures.

Be cautious of arrival times

One word: traffic. Be cautious of the fact that your trip may be slightly longer than anticipated because you are not the only one on the road. This is true to the lessons learned about open data in general and Open Budget that the City of Chattanooga shared in yesterday’s online training, which you can view here. If they could go back before their trip to financial transparency, Jenny and Vickie noted that they would have set realistic goals for implementation timelines. And as far as sharing the road, the time and effort to engage users around data – “making data mentally accessible and interesting,” as Vickie describes, is another lesson learned from the City of Chattanooga.

To hear more lessons learned and view a demonstration on both the City Open Data portal and Open Budget App, view the on-demand training here.

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