The City of Minneapolis Upgrades Its Online Financial Transparency.

Author:Mack, Mark
 
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The City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, started its online transparency project after the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) gave it a D--rating for sharing government data. This turned out to be the catalyst it needed to embark on a citywide initiative.

In 2014, Minneapolis started exploring ways to make its finances more transparent to the public. With the support of newly elected city council members, the Minneapolis Finance Department was able to launch its financial transparency web platform in February 2015. (The site is at minneapolismn.opengov.com.) The city's communications team coordinated a public outreach campaign via press conferences, newsletters, and other outreach efforts, and in its first year, website traffic averaged 1,600 views per month, with 1,883 unique visitors. That's six times more traffic than the city's 2015 budget document page, but about the same number of unique visitors (1,908). The financial transparency website was launched in conjunction with the city's open data portal, which had been made available a few months earlier. Together, these two web platforms provided citizens, media, and city staff with valuable reference tools and an improved understanding of city services.

BACKGROUND The U.S. PIRG report, "Transparency in City Spending," came out in early 2013. (1) U.S. PIRG had developed a rubric that scored cities based on level of detail and comprehensiveness, ease of access to a single website, and search and download features. After receiving a poor rating for the city's efforts, the Minneapolis Finance Department began to make a concerted effort to implement a new online financial transparency initiative.

In November 2013, the city elected several new city council members who were interested in improving the city's transparency efforts. With these elected officials on board, the city council passed an open data policy in August 2014 that directed the Information Technology Department to create a publicly accessible web portal for government data. The finance department chose a project manager to lead the initiative and got started seeking a better way to share financial data--one that would help a broad audience fully understand the city's financial information. For example, rather than merely publishing large tables of numbers, the finance department chose a platform that allows users to easily search for summary or detail information at the department, fund, or account code level. The...

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