Open Data in Los Angeles Office of the Controller.

Author:Mack, Mark
Position:Cover story
 
FREE EXCERPT

The current controller for the City of Los Angeles, California, was elected in 2013 with the goal of reimagining local government through transparency, technology, and transformation. He immediately started working toward opening the books on the city's finances by creating an open data portal, ControlPanel LA, which provides information on the city's expenses, revenues, budget, and more.

The Los Angeles Controller's Office learned four major lessons during the development of their Open Data platform:

  1. Achieve buy-in from government administration and elected officials.

  2. Know your audience.

  3. Put information in context.

  4. Make sure the program is sustainable.

ACHIEVING BUY-IN

Without the support of the government's leadership, achieving online fiscal transparency is an impossible feat.

The Los Angeles controller embraced the idea of "transparency by default," which means the controller's office does not separate public data from operational data. Such an expansive transparency agenda can be risky for elected officials because it provides an opportunity for scrutiny from their political opponents, their constituents, and the media.

Initially, some employers in the controller's office weren't excited about the open data platform. A mix of middle management and line staff who worked with data or public records requests shared concerns that the process was moving too fast and wasn't going to be executed properly. Despite these fears, the project continued and was launched three months after the controller took office. The speedy take-off was greatly assisted by technical help from the director of financial analysis and reporting and his staff, who figured out how to collect data from the current financial systems to use in the new open data platform. The controller's excitement about transparency filtered down to all levels of the office, making staff enthusiastic to be working on a project that no previous administration had tackled.

When the open data platform was launched, in December 2013, the mayor issued an executive directive promoting transparency and accountability for the City of Los Angeles, making raw data publicly available in easy-to-find and accessible formats.

KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE

For an interactive open data platform to succeed, there needs to be a clear understanding of who will be using it. The Los Angeles Controller's Office identified five primary segments that are likely to use their open data platform: media, the...

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