There has been a lot of talk about making public data more readily available, and of involving the public (most obviously in the participatory budgeting movement). These two strategies sit in curious counterpoint to the equally popular trend of treating municipal finances as increasingly complex and needing expert (i.e. private sector) intervention. Anyway, here’s a small-city effort that combines transparency and public involvement to find things to trim in the budget:
The Naperville city government had already centralized the accounts needed to finance all aspects of the city, but information was often inaccurate or even missing. The city enlisted help from Spikes Cavell Analytic Inc, a Herndon, Va.-based company that, according to its website, provides, “collaborative analytics for the public sector.” In other words, the company works in collaboration with municipalities and other agencies in the public sector to upload financial information and organize it to make it more understandable.
“Once we’d uploaded our contracts and we became able to analyze them alongside our spend data,” said Mike Bevis, Chief Procurement Officer in Naperville, on the company’s website. According to Bevis, the new way of viewing data helped them to identify savings opportunities.
Spikes Cavell uses a program called the Observatory, a network of tools used to interpret data specifically designed for the public sector. Through the network, agencies can upload contracts and other information into the system. The Observatory captures the data and provides a detailed analysis that help agencies better track their spending.
The collaboration with Spikes Cavell will also allow Naperville residents to see how each dollar is spent through through a different website that allows the government and the public can track municipal spending.