California Forward (CA Fwd) congratulates the California State Controller’s Office on its new open data portal, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov. Offering more than 13 million fields of financial data for California cities and counties, the website makes it easier for taxpayers to track revenues, expenditures, and other local government financial activities.
CA Fwd has long maintained that, if local governments and state agencies aim to enhance transparency, than the effort to provide readable, digestible and relevant data must be given as much importance as the general push to make the data available.
And CA Fwd knows a thing or two about leveraging technology to make complex government data more user-friendly. Last year we expanded our Transparency Portal to include a new tool that allows users toview background information and visualizations of financial information collected by the State Controller’s office on more than 1,200 Special Districts across the state.
Building the Transparency Portal Special District Search required extensive manipulation of database files previously only available on a disc – information which the Controllers’ office is now making a concerted effort to push online in easily accessible, downloadable formats. This is the key to unlocking the potential of data and empowering residents to interact and more meaningfully engage with information about their government.
The Controller’s press release featured praise for the idea from city and county leaders:
“The State Controller’s new open data website is a significant step in enhancing transparency in government at all levels. It provides the public with the tools to better understand and engage in our government process,” said Matt Cate, Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). “We applaud the Controller for utilizing state-of-the-art technology to develop a tool that puts valuable public information right at the fingertips of our residents.”
“The Controller’s announcement today of the ByTheNumbers website is an important and positive step forward in helping the public be more engaged in important policy decisions by their local governments,” said Chris McKenzie, Executive Director of the League of California Cities. “This new website will complement the open data and related transparency efforts of cities across the state. We commend the Controller for finding an effective way to make key city financial data much more accessible and useful to taxpayers and local agencies alike.”
As required by law, the Controller’s Office has been collecting and publishing this data in seldom-used paper form since 1911. The new website makes it easier for communities to look up data, download raw numbers, create charts and search for other financial data by offering dropdown menus that will allow users to drill into more specific financial information. In significantly greater detail than offered in the previous paper reports, the new website covers funds received and spent by California’s local governments, as well as property they own and amounts they owe.
The Controllers’ office has long curated this data – among the only centralized resources for tracking finances of California’s thousands of local jurisdictions.
The portal follows closely on the heels of the State Department of Public Health’s Data Portal launch last month, and advances the drumbeat of open data in California. Critically, the launch of these portals includes visualization tools that help communicate the information and provide some basic context.