Minneapolis Uses Web-Based Financial Transparency Tools

Thursday, November 5, 2015

One of the changes the City of Minneapolis made after its 2013 mayoral election was adding a new strategic goal: creating a better connection to the community it served. To this end, the city increased its financial transparency, moving beyond the 500-page budget document it had published in PDF format to online tools that presented information in a clear, user-friendly way.

Under the old presentation method, the numbers made sense to finance professionals but were largely a mystery to many others. And although the PDF document technically achieved the goal of making city finances available to the public, many users sought further clarity and flexibility. To address this disconnect, the city contracted with a public-sector technology company to develop a web-based financial visualization tool that would make it easier for the broader public to access and understand the city’s finances. The financial transparency platform is supported by a video tutorial and includes links to interactive chars and grafts, and it filters data by fund and program, showing how resources are allocated.

In creating the new platform, the city wanted to go beyond a “data dump” to supplying citizens with meaningful information – and it was also important to explain city finances within city government, since the finance office often interpreted financial data for elected officials and others within the organization. While this was something the department was certainly equipped to do, preparing such information often drew staff away from more value-added tasks. Another consideration was the volume of Minnesota Data Practices Act requests – official and legally binding inquiries, along with more basic inquiries from curious citizens and journalists.

Championed by the city’s finance team and an engaged city councilman, a financial data visualization website was built alongside a broader open data initiative undertaken by the city. The city council and the new administration unanimously approved the project, which cost $25,000. The platform had more than 500 unique visitors in the first month, and the city anticipates even stronger traffic when the city’s first annual budget is posted to the site.

More information on financial data visualization tools is available at the city’s website.

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