“People need to know to make the right decisions. We are past the point in this country where people can stick their heads in the sand. People need to be informed. They need to be educated about their decisions and know that all of those decisions have consequences - good or bad.” - Janelle Galbraith
The quote above captures the essence of the delicate balancing act many government officials navigate in leading their communities. They are under pressure to deliver results for their constituents. Those constituents want effective government, but they also want cost-effective government. Key components of finding that balance are transparency, better budgeting, and performance management.
Transparent government agencies keep constituents informed, but transparency isn’t always easy. The best and brightest government officials need powerful tools to lead their organizations and guide their communities.
OpenGov is a budgeting and performance software company that looks to empower government executives with data. The company recently hosted its Fall Festival, a gathering of government leaders from across the country designed to promote the sharing of information and best practices for leveraging data in the state and local government sector.
"We are here to make the lives of government executives easier," said OpenGov co-founder and CEO Zac Bookman. “Our products are so customer-driven that it's very important for us to gather all of our customers here in one place and get their feedback. We take that feedback and use it to shape our product roadmap.”
Ease of use is paramount for OpenGov products and perhaps there is no better example of how critical that can be than the experience of Janelle Galbraith. Galbraith is the Management Assistant to the City Manager for Redding, Calif., one of the cities ravaged by the Carr Fire in Northern California last summer.
When the fire hit, Galbraith had never used OpenGov Stories – a solution that helps governments more effectively share information with their communities and across their organizations using easy-to-use web pages that combine data, images, maps, videos, and text - to disseminate recovery information to Shasta County and Redding residents. She had to learn how to use the platform under extreme pressure, taking care to provide as much information to the public as possible while also acting as a sort of gatekeeper to guard against misinformation.
When asked what went through her mind when she was deciding what kinds of information to make public, Galbraith’s answer was simple.
“I thought of everything from the perspective of a citizen because I am one.”
In 48 hours over a weekend, Galbraith and a tiger team of OpenGov employees were able to post 15 stories and host one virtual town hall. In total, the city was able to respond to 106 questions from citizens. In the first two days, over 30,000 residents visited the site. After the immediate threat of the fire had dissipated, the platform became a one-stop shop for recovery and rebuilding information.
“Don't post what you don't know,” Galbraith cautioned. “You can always update it later.”
Galbraith wasn’t the only one sharing her story at the OpenGov gathering. Brian Dehner, the Chief Administrative Officer for Edgewood, Ky., presented a video at the event that looked at how his city uses OpenGov to make more informed decisions on spending. Ultimately, the data in their OpenGov platform - including performance indicators and the city’s budget - demonstrated the need to pass a tax measure to add four more firefighters to their community, resulting in quicker response times to citizens.
“In today’s world with social media, there are a lot of people authoring stories without any facts,” Dehner said. “We wanted to be transparent so the facts would be easy to find.”
Dehner noted that not only does the system help save lives now, it is being used to create performance dashboards to capture data that might not be used for years to come.
“Emotional crises are becoming more and more of a problem for our emergency responders,” Dehner explained. “We track that performance so if we ever need to boost our efforts to combat that problem, we are ready with the data.”
OpenGov launched an online community at the festival to give users a forum to share use cases and best practices like the ones Galbraith and Dehner detailed.
The festival also featured a continuing education workshop that allowed OpenGov users to share use cases and best practices. A few of the participants openly expressed a desire to continue the workshop for a few days instead of just a few hours. So as the desire for better transparency, budgeting and performance management increases, it stands to reason that an OpenGov User Conference might be on the horizon.