texas transparency - University of Texas at Austin

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TEXAS   TRANSPARENCY:   BEYOND  RAW  DATA    

      LBJ  School  of  Public  Affairs  –  Policy  Research  Project  

May  5,  2011  

 

 

Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

    Dedication   To  the  memory  of  Professor   Gary  Chapman,  our  mentor,   colleague,  and  friend.    His   passion  and  eagerness  to  help   was  truly  inspiring.    

Project  Directors   Gary  Chapman   Sherri  Greenberg  

  Researchers  &  Contributors   Laruen  Ames   Catherine  Bracy   Adam  Colligan   J.T.  Harechmak   Kimberly  Johnson   Joshua  Levine   Kellyann  McClain   Christina  Mechler    Chris  Rhys   Meredith  Whipple    

Special  Thanks  To   Suzanne  Berman   Damien  Brockmann   Talmadge  Heflin   Jon  Liebkowski   Matt  Stiles   Kelly  Young        

 

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

Table  of  Contents       EXECUTIVE  SUMMARY  ....................................................................................................................  4   INTRODUCTION  ..............................................................................................................................  5   Purpose  ........................................................................................................................................................  5   Background  ..................................................................................................................................................  5   Research  ......................................................................................................................................................  7   ORIGIN  OF  DATA  ...........................................................................................................................  11   PRESENTATION  OF  DATA  ..............................................................................................................  14   ENGAGING  THE  PUBLIC  ................................................................................................................  17   RECOMMENDATIONS  ...................................................................................................................  19   Origin  of  Data  .............................................................................................................................................  19   Presentation  of  Data  ..................................................................................................................................  20   Engaging  the  Public  ....................................................................................................................................  22   CONCLUSION  ................................................................................................................................  24   Appendix  ......................................................................................................................................  25   A.  TEXAS  SCHOOL  DISTRICT  FINANCE  DATA  ..............................................................................................  25   B.  LEGISLATIVE  BUDGET  BOARD  WEBSITE  .................................................................................................  32   C.  CITY  OF  KYLE  ..........................................................................................................................................  38   D.  CITY  OF  MANOR:  Transparency  on  a  Budget  .........................................................................................  40   E.  WEB  TOOLS  ............................................................................................................................................  42   F.  LEGISLATIVE  RESOURCES  .......................................................................................................................  44   G.  QUESTIONNAIRE  ....................................................................................................................................  46   H.  GLOSSARY  ..............................................................................................................................................  52  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

EXECUTIVE  SUMMARY   Advances  in  technology  over  the  past  decade  have  created  the  expectation  that  public  information  be   available  online.  This  has  never  been  more  important  than  in  the  current  economic  climate,  in  which  all   levels  of  government  are  facing  severe  budget  shortfalls  and  the  public  is  demanding  accountability.   Enhancing  transparency  in  the  budget  process,  as  well  as  in  all  government  functions,  requires  easy   access  to  information  and  mechanisms  to  promote  civic  engagement.       For  our  research,  we  gathered  information  from  various  stakeholders  inside  and  outside  of  government   on  how  to  increase  transparency.  We  did  this  through  a  questionnaire  and  a  statewide  conference.  This   feedback  helped  us  identify  strategies  and  best  practices  for  connecting  interested  parties  to   government  data  and  facilitating  civic  engagement.  Our  research  also  includes  case  studies  that  further   clarify  the  challenges  to  achieving  transparency  in  the  context  of  the  state  government,  state  agencies,   and  local  governments.  We  identified  barriers  to  transparency  in  the  areas  of  data  production  and   content  creation,  data  formatting  and  presentation,  and  civic  engagement.    We  included   recommendations  for  three  types  of  stakeholders:  government,  intermediary  organizations,  and  the   public.    Intermediary  organizations  include  nonprofit  organizations  and  media  outlets.           Our  recommendations  are  organized  into  three  sections;  “Origin  of  Data,”  Presentation  of  Data,”  and   “Engaging  the  Public.”  We  recommend  that  data  be  comprehensible,  machine-­‐readable,  exportable,  and   editable.    Agencies  should  assess  community  needs,  appoint  a  staff  person  to  spearhead  transparency,   and  review  and  renew  data  processes.  In  terms  of  presentation,  we  recommend  that  data  be  displayed   in  a  visually  appealing  and  useful  way,  such  as  through  graphics  and  organized  menus.  We  also   encourage  agencies  to  make  use  of  social  media  and  elicit  user  feedback  on  their  websites.  Finally,  in   addressing  civic  engagement,  we  offer  recommendations  for  both  news  organizations  and  policy-­‐ oriented  nonprofits.  We  suggest  that  news  organizations  participate  in  media  literacy  programs,  form   partnerships  with  civic  engagement  groups,  and  offer  public  events  and  programming  for  the   community.  We  recommend  that  policy-­‐oriented  non-­‐profits  utilize  social  media,  provide  website   interactivity,  state  clear  goals  on  their  websites,  and  highlight  the  outcomes  of  user  engagement.         Overall,  online  transparency  must  foster  understanding,  provide  context,  and  promote  interactivity  in   order  to  truly  engage  the  public.    The  shift  we  describe  here  is  one  from  e-­‐government—government   data  on  websites—  to  e-­‐governance—truly  virtual  government  that  promotes  civic  engagement.

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

INTRODUCTION   Now,  more  than  any  time  in  recent  history,  government  budgets  have  become  the  hot  topic  of   conversation  from  the  nightly  news  to  the  office  water  cooler.  People  are  asking,  “How  much  are  we   spending?  What  are  we  spending  it  on,  and  why?”  The  public  wants  to  know  which  programs  are  being   cut,  which  are  being  saved,  whether  taxes  will  be  raised  and  if  there  might  be  a  better  way  to  govern.   Many  will  turn  to  the  Internet  to  find  answers  to  these  questions  and  to  find  out  how  they  can  get   involved.  They  will  look  to  government  websites,  online  news  outlets  and  nonprofit  public  interest  and   advocacy  groups.  Under  the  best  circumstances,  they  will  quickly  find  information  in  useful,  easily   understood  formats  on  websites  providing  avenues  for  feedback  and  interaction.  In  most  cases,   however,  they  will  encounter  websites  that  are  works-­‐in-­‐progress  and  are  only  just  beginning  to   incorporate  best  practices  for  online  open  government.  

 

Governments  at  all  levels  are  just  beginning  to  understand  the  power  of  the  Internet  for  transforming   the  way  they  govern.  President  Obama  identified  transparency,  participation  and  collaboration  as  three   key  components  of  open  government  in  his  Memorandum  on  Transparency  and  Open  Government,   issued  on  January  21,  2009.i  To  achieve  a  government  that  is  more  efficient,  accountable  and  responsive   to  citizens,  the  government  must  provide  the  public  with  access  to  useful  information  that  is  easily   understood  and  facilitates  interaction.    The  government  must  engage  the  public.   The  availability  of  online  information  is  key  to  attaining  transparency.  Government  data,  especially   financial  information,  should  be  online  in  open  formats  and  easily  accessible  by  the  public.  Machine   readable  and  exportable  data,  though,  does  not  in  itself  stimulate  public  participation.    The  data  must   be  both  accessible  and  useable.    There  must  be  input  from  civic  groups  and  media  outlets  to  interpret   the  data  and  provide  context.  Finally,  the  information  must  be  presented  to  the  public  in  a   comprehensible  format  with  tools  for  two-­‐way  communications.   Over  the  years,  Texas  has  been  a  leader  among  states  in  the  open  government  and  transparency   movement.  The  Comptroller’s  office  publishes  state  spending  and  contract  information  online  and   encourages  local  entities  to  do  the  same.  Other  state  agencies  also  have  financial  information  online  and   available  to  the  public;  although,  the  data  can  be  difficult  to  locate  and  analyze.  This  report  provides   tools  and  recommendations  to  overcome  the  most  common  challenges  that  reduce  transparency.  

Purpose     In  the  past  decade,  technological  advances  have  created  the  expectation  that  public  information,   including  financial  data,  be  available  online.  This  has  never  been  more  important  than  in  the  current   economic  climate,  in  which  all  levels  of  government  are  facing  severe  budget  shortfalls  and  the  public  is   demanding  accountability.  Enhancing  transparency  in  the  budget  process,  as  well  as  in  all  government   functions,  requires  easy  access  to  information  and  mechanisms  for  civic  engagement.  Government   agencies,  third  party  organizations  that  act  as  intermediaries,  and  the  public  can  use  the  analysis  and   recommendations  in  this  report  to  make  the  most  of  available  data  and  create  a  more  informed  and   engaged  citizenry.    

Background   Our  research  builds  on  work  from  2010  by  a  prior  Policy  Research  Project  at  the  LBJ  School  of  Public   Affairs.  The  2010  report,  Texas  Financial  Transparency:  Open  and  Online,  addresses  state  level  financial   transparency  websites,  local  governments’  online  presentation  of  financial  information,  and  openness  in  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   the  legislative  appropriations  process.ii  The  key  recommendations  for  state  and  local  governments  are   that  data  should  be  searchable  and  exportable,  available  in  raw,  real-­‐time  formats,  and  consolidated   into  a  “one-­‐stop-­‐shop.”  Data  also  should  be  visually  appealing  and  should  be  put  in  context  to  facilitate   engagement  with  users.  In  the  case  of  local  governments,  the  report  recommends  the  use  of  a  template   to  help  smaller  entities  publish  data,  as  well  as  upgrading  the  requirements  for  local  government  to   qualify  for  the  Comptroller’s  Leadership  Circle,  which  recognizes  local  government  efforts  in  publishing   budget  documents,  annual  financial  reports  and  check  registers.  The  recommendations  for  the   appropriations  process  are  that  certain  documents  that  are  available  to  legislators,  such  as  background   information  and  recommendations  and  changes  from  subcommittee  meetings,  should  be  available   online.  As  a  result  of  this  recommendation,  the  Legislative  Budget  Board  (LBB)  began  publishing  such   decision  documents  this  year  during  the  82nd  Texas  Legislative  Session.  Also,  the  full  text  of  the  budget   legislation,  currently  only  available  to  download  page-­‐by-­‐page,  should  be  easy  to  view  and  search.   Apart  from  the  recommendations  for  specific  entities,  the  report  also  identifies  four  principles  for   transparency  reform:  the  definition  of  public  now  means  online,  data  must  be  relevant  and  provide   context,  data  must  be  available  at  all  levels  to  allow  users  to  follow  the  money,  and  transparency   enables  participation,  encourages  collaboration,  and  increases  efficiency.   Our  research  focuses  on  the  fourth  principle  of  transparency,  which  is  the  interactive  aspect  that  should   stimulate  civic  engagement.  Civic  engagement  is  a  key  element  in  a  democratic  society,  so  providing   mechanisms  to  enhance  engagement  supports  democracy  and  the  goal  of  pursuing  public  interest.iii     Studies  of  local  government  websites  demonstrate  that  this  can  be  achieved  by  providing  information  in   accessible  formats.iv  The  transfer  of  information  that  is  useful  and  relevant  to  the  public  works  well  to   support  the  concept  of  public  involvement  in  a  representative  or  pluralist  theory,  but  has  been  less   effective  as  a  tool  for  direct  democracy.   All  conceptions  of  democracy  rely  on  some  level  of  civic  engagement.  As  citizens  use  the  Internet  to   gather  information,  they  show  increased  interest  in  political  participation.v  This  can  be  exhibited   through  online  or  personal  exchanges  and  in  voting  behavior.  Governments  can  also  use  the  online   interactions  they  have  with  the  public  to  improve  trust  and  accountability.vi  A  more  informed  and   involved  citizenry  results  in  a  better  functioning  government.   Civic  engagement  does  not  simply  occur,  however,  because  a  government  entity  builds  a  website.  There   are  key  elements  that  increase  engagement  by  providing  a  way  for  the  public  to  be  more  than   consumers  of  data.  The  most  basic  characteristic  of  a  website  that  promotes  an  active  citizenry  is  some   method  to  solicit  public  feedback.vii  Information  must  be  presented  to  the  public,  but  also  allow  for  two-­‐ way  communication,  so  that  people  can  submit  their  opinions,  which  are  then  used  to  inform   government  decision-­‐making.  Implementing  systems  to  include  the  public  in  government  processes   signifies  a  shift  in  e-­‐government  objectives.    In  fact,  it  means  moving  from  e-­‐government,  which  is  the   online  delivery  of  government  services  and  information,  to  e-­‐governance,  which  is  direct  online  public   engagement  in  government.viii  Rather  than  being  simply  a  means  to  streamline  services  and  focus  on   cost-­‐savings  and  efficiency,  developing  civic  engagement  tools  focuses  on  the  public.   Enhancing  civic  engagement  through  online  transparency,  though,  is  not  always  a  perfect  solution.   Implementing  new  technologies  to  enhance  online  governance  assumes  that  the  public  has  easy  access   to  the  Internet.  Broadband  adoption,  however,  is  not  universal,  and  in  fact,  in  some  demographics  it  is   as  low  as  24%.ix  Even  with  Internet  access,  not  all  users  can  navigate  complex,  data-­‐filled  websites.x   When  advocating  for  more  information  online,  we  must  be  cautious  not  to  widen  the  digital  divide.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   Universally  increasing  civic  engagement  also  requires  the  adoption  of  policies  that  reduce  the  digital   divide  and  enhance  computer  literacy.  

Research   Our  research  identifies  three  major  stakeholder  groups  affected  by  government  transparency  online:   government,  intermediaries,  and  the  public.    We  define  “government”  as  all  government  actors  who   produce  data  and  publications.  “Intermediaries”  are  all  actors  outside  government  who  process  or  give   context  to  government  data  for  consumption  by  the  public.  Finally,  the  “public”  is  comprised  of   individuals  who  use  tools  and  data  produced  by  government  and  intermediaries.    In  addressing  these   groups,  this  report  provides  recommendations  on  how  government  can  best  present  raw  data,  how   government  and  intermediaries  can  best  use  raw  data  and  provide  context  for  the  public,  and  how  the   public  can  find  this  information  and  put  it  to  use.   Through  case  studies  and  interactions  with  stakeholders  we  have  identified  barriers  to  transparency  in   data  production  and  formatting,  online  presentation  and  civic  engagement.    We  recognize  that   transparency  is  a  fluid  process  involving  a  variety  of  stakeholders  in  different  roles.  Our   recommendations  and  best  practices  provide  a  roadmap  for  governments  toward  transparency  and   offers  steps  for  organizations  outside  of  government  to  encourage  civic  engagement  using  government   data.     The  case  studies  from  our  research  elucidate  the  transparency  challenges  in  state  government,  a  state   agency,  and  local  governments.  The  Texas  Education  Agency  (TEA)  exemplifies  an  agency  that  collects   and  publishes  large  amounts  of  data,  but  has  not  collected  the  data  in  a  format  that  is  easy  to  display   online,  making  it  difficult  for  citizens  to  understand.    The  TEA  case  study  provides  a  visual  mapping  tool   of  the  TEA  data.xi  The  LBB  houses  important  information  that  is  key  to  developing  an  informed  citizenry;   however,  our  research  found  that  the  LBB’s  website  is  outdated  and  difficult  to  navigate.  As  part  of  our   project,  we  are  creating  a  prototype  for  a  new  LBB  website  homepage.    The  presentation  of  state  budget   data  in  unsearchable  formats  undoubtedly  creates  challenges  for  interested  citizens.xii  On  the  local  level,   the  City  of  Kyle  has  been  working  towards  transparency  by  soliciting  feedback  from  the  City’s  residents.       We  are  creating  a  survey  for  Kyle  officials  to  learn  more  about  how  the  public  uses  the  City’s  financial   information.xiii  Our  final  case  study,  the  City  of  Manor,  is  an  example  of  an  entity  that  successfully  used   emerging  technology  and  open  source  tools  to  advance  transparency  in  the  face  of  fiscal  constraints.  xiv   Another  important  aspect  of  our  research  has  been  to  gather  feedback  and  input  from  stakeholders   inside  and  outside  of  government  on  ways  for  government  to  become  more  transparent.    We  elicited   stakeholder  feedback  by  distributing  a  questionnaire  and  holding  a  conference.    This  feedback  informed   our  research  direction  and  helped  us  identify  best  practices  to  connect  interested  parties  with   government  data  to  promote  civic  engagement.     The  2010  Policy  Research  Team  used  a  questionnaire  to  obtain  feedback  on  user  satisfaction  with  the   accessibility  and  usability  of  online  government  data.    The  results  resoundingly  indicated  that  users  were   dissatisfied,  expressing  concern  with  the  availability,  exportability,  and  presentation  of  data,  among   other  issues.xv    Having  established  that  users  were  largely  dissatisfied,  our  research  team  distributed  a   subsequent  questionnaire  (see  Appendix  G)  to  ascertain  what  would  improve  user  experience  in   accessing  and  interacting  with  online  government  data.        

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

Government  Transparency  2010,  “Transparency  Questionnaire.”  

Seventy-­‐five  out  of  220  responded  to  the  questionnaire.    The  questionnaire  asked  people  to  identify   their  age,  role  in  accessing  government  data,  and  need  for  accessing  government  data.    Our  results   indicated  that  questionnaire  respondents  were  quite  diverse  as  far  as  age  and  role,  including   researchers,  nonprofit  organizations  and  businesses.    In  terms  of  what  participants  use  government  data   for,  “research”  and  “tracking  policy  or  trends”  received  the  most  responses.    A  question  asked   participants  to  identify  what  types  of  information  they  seek  online.    We  found  a  relatively  even  spread   among  the  choices  provided  with  “text  of  legislation,  local                   ordinances,  or  rules”  receiving  the  highest  number  of  responses  with  about  68  percent  of  respondents   selecting  this  choice.  In  terms  of  what  format  would  be  helpful  in  accessing  government  data,   respondents  most  readily  identified  exportable  data  and  graphs/charts.    The  most  prevalent  barriers  to   respondents  utilizing  the  data  they  needed  included  “can’t  locate  what  you  need”  and  “format”.    As  far   as  which  resources  would  improve  their  access  to  government  data,  respondents  selected  “better   organized  websites”  and  “exportable  data”.    We  asked  respondents  if  they  had  all  the  tools  they  needed   and  how  they  would  use  government  data.    “Research”  and  “tracking  policy  and  trends”  received  the   most  responses  though  the  answers  varied  widely  including  more  that  50  percent  of  respondents   selecting  “inform  voting”  and  “advocacy  efforts”.    In  the  open-­‐ended  question,  respondents  indicated   that  a  lack  of  consistency  in  websites  is  a  major  issue.    There  was  a  call  for  a  data  clearing  house  or  “one   stop  shop”.       To  further  the  conversation  with  those  interested  in  open  government,  we  worked  with  a  local   organization,  EFF-­‐Austin,  on  a  conference  that  brought  together  officials  in  state  and  local  government,   academia,  media,  advocacy  groups  and  private  industry  to  explore  best  practices  in  Open  Government.    

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   The  conference  entitled,  “Texas  Government  2.0  Camp”  was  held  January  28  and  29,  2011  and  consisted   of  one  day  of  panels  and  one  day  of  “unconference”,  or  open  conference,  agenda.     The  goal  of  the  conference  was  to  discern  whether  there  were  better  ways  to  help  the  public  find  the   needle  in  the  haystack  of  government  information.  Through  panel  discussions  and  conversations  with   those  in  attendance,  we  were  able  identify  some  important  issues  affecting  online  transparency.  Among   the  major  themes  discussed  were  strengths  and  weaknesses  of  government  in  disseminating  data,  the   role  intermediary  organizations  can  play  in  the  effective  communication  of  government  data  and  the   importance  of  collaboration  to  engage  the  public  in  improving  government  and  helping  make   government  information  more  usable.     Several  attendees  explained  that  the  role  of  government  in  producing  data  sometimes  limits  the   usefulness  of  the  data  to  the  public.  Various  levels  of  government  often  produce  data  to  fulfill  specific   reporting  requirements,  so  data  is  tailored  to  those  needs.  Often,  data  is  not  in  a  format  or  layout  that  is   easily  accessible.  Agencies  tend  to  take  an  internal  view  of  information  needs  rather  than  a  holistic   approach.  Frequently,  the  information  owner  posts  information  on  its  website,  but  the  public  often  does   not  know  where  to  find  the  data.    Additionally,  there  are  numerous  potential  audiences  seeking   information.  Those  audiences  include  academic  researchers,  legislative  staff,  staff  of  other  government   agencies,  advocacy  organizations,  and  potential  contractors  and  interested  members  of  the  public,  to   name  a  few.  Governments  are  not  well  suited  to  identifying  all  audiences  and  putting  the  information  in   a  format  that  is  usable  for  each  and  doing  so  may  be  beyond  the  scope  of  government  responsibility.       Some  Conference  attendees  suggested  we  consider  government  limitations  to  determine  which   concerns  government  can  best  address  and  which  can  be  addressed  in  other  ways.  As  one  attendee  said,   “Elephants  don’t  dance  well,”  and  he  suggested  we  should  not  ask  government  to  go  beyond  its  abilities.   Several  attendees  suggested  government  could  create  a  centralized  location  for  publishing  data  from   across  agencies  and  departments  so  people  do  not  need  to  know  the  owner  to  find  the  data.     Government  can  make  information  available  in  machine  readable  and  exportable  formats.  However,   government  might  not  be  in  the  best  position  to  package  the  information  in  a  “retail”  format.   Essentially,  government  might  be  best  suited  to  bale  the  hay  and  stack  it,  so  that  looking  for  the  needle   is  easier.     Other  attendees  suggested  that  intermediary  organizations  might  be  best  suited  to  take  the  raw  data   and  prepare  it  for  public  consumption.  Intermediaries  include  advocacy  organizations,  watchdog  groups,   the  media  and  other  public  interest  groups.  These  organizations  know  the  information  that  their   constituencies  want  and  how  it  will  be  most  useful.  They  are  in  a  position  to  aggregate  government  data   and  create  applications  that  display  it  with  context  and  meaning.  Intermediaries  play  an  important  role   in  proactively  pursuing  information  that  might  be  difficult  or  cumbersome  to  access  and  reproducing  it   in  a  relatable  way.  In  his  Keynote  address,  Evan  Smith,  CEO  and  Editor  of  the  Texas  Tribune,  commented   that  much  of  the  Tribune’s  data  work  consists  of  asking  for  the  information  and  “standing  there  tapping   our  foot;”  something  many  in  the  general  public  do  not  generally  have  the  time  or  energy  to  do.  In   providing  context,  intermediaries  have  the  opportunity  to  take  the  data  they  gather  and  connect  it  to   the  larger  picture.  They  can  help  people  see  more  than  test  scores,  but  also  communities  and  lives.   Hence,  intermediaries  can  organize  the  variety  of  needles  found  inside  the  haystack  and  help  people   understand  the  purpose  of  each.     Collaboration  is  another  way  for  government  to  engage  the  public  and  to  create  useful  information.   Some  attendees  suggested  using  new  technologies  to  give  the  public  a  direct  role  in  locating,  organizing  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   and  translating  government  data.  Several  suggested  crowdsourcing  as  an  innovative  way  to  get  people   to  tag  data,  rate  its  usefulness  or  even,  in  some  cases,  rate  its  validity.    Using  collective  efforts  could  be  a   way  to  build  a  map  and  make  sense  of  data  that  currently  exists  in  formats  or  in  locations  that  are  not  as   accessible  as  possible.  Evan  Smith  also  stressed  the  importance  of  intermediaries  such  as  the  Tribune  in   collaborating  with  other  intermediaries  and  with  the  public.    With  the  correct  needle  for  the  job,  citizens   can  work  together  to  sew  the  quilt  of  effective  government.

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 Barack  Obama,  "Transparency  and  Open  Government:  Memorandum  for  the  Heads  of  Executive  Departments  and   Agencies  ,"  The  White  House,  last  modified  January  21,  2009,  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/   TransparencyandOpenGovernment.   ii  LBJ  School  of  Public  Affairs  -­‐  Policy  Research  Project,  Texas  Financial  Transparency:  Open  and  Online,  ed.  Matt   Hartman,  Claudia  Montelongo,  and  Jennifer  Quereau,  May  12,  2010,  http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/cpg/docs/prp.pdf.     iii  Jon  Gant  and  Nicole  Turner-­‐Lee,  Government  Transparency:  Six  Strategies  for  More  Open  and  Participatory   Government  (n.p.:  The  Aspen  Institute  and  the  John  S.  and  James  L.  Knight  Foundation,  February  2011).     iv    James  K.  Scott,  "'E'  the  People:  Do  U.S.  Municipal  Government  Web  Sites  Support  Public  Involvement?"  Public   Administration  Review  (May-­‐June  2006):341-­‐353.   v  Tony  Carrizales,  "The  Internet  Citizenry:  Access  and  Participation,"  Public  Administration  Review  69,  no.  2  (March-­‐ April  2009):350-­‐353.   vi  Caroline  J.  Tolbert  and  Karen  Mossberger,  “The  Effects  of  E-­‐Government  on  Trust  and  Confidence  in   Government,”  Public  Administration  Review  66,  no.  3  (May-­‐June  2006):354-­‐369.   vii  Jon  Gant  and  Nicole  Turner-­‐Lee,  Government  Transparency:  Six  Strategies  for  More  Open  and  Participatory   Government  (n.p.:  The  Aspen  Institute  and  the  John  S.  and  James  L.  Knight  Foundation,  February  2011):  20.   viii  Sherri  Greenberg  and  Angela  Newell,  "Transparency  Issues  in  E-­‐governance  and  Civic  Engagement,"  in  Active   Citizen  Participation  in  E-­‐Government:  A  Global  Perspective  (n.p.:  IGA  Global,  Forthcoming  January  2012).   ix  Jon  Gant  and  Nicole  Turner-­‐Lee,  Government  Transparency:  Six  Strategies  for  More  Open  and  Participatory   Government  (n.p.:  The  Aspen  Institute  and  the  John  S.  and  James  L.  Knight  Foundation,  February  2011):  25.   x  Ibid.   xi  Appendix  A  contains  a  detailed  description  of  transparency  challenges  in  the  TEA  and  recommendations.   xii  Appendix  B  provides  a  brief  literature  review  of  best  practices  in  website  design  and  more  information  on  our   version  of  the  LBB  website.   xiii  Appendix  C  is  a  more  in  depth  analysis  of  the  City  if  Kyle.   xiv  Appendix  D  is  a  more  in  depth  analysis  of  the  City  of  Manor.   xv  LBJ  School  of  Public  Affairs  -­‐  Policy  Research  Project,  Texas  Financial  Transparency:  Open  and  Online,  ed.  Matt   Hartman,  Claudia  Montelongo,  and  Jennifer  Quereau,  May  12,  2010,  http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/cpg/docs/prp.pdf.    

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

ORIGIN  OF  DATA       There  are  many  political,  cultural,  and  economic  forces  propelling  the  demand  for  online  data  that  is   comprehensive  and  meaningful  to  the  public.  Government  agencies  need  to  think  explicitly  about  the   data  they  gather,  the  reports  and  correspondence  they  generate,  and  how  they  make  this  available  to   the  public  in  a  useful  way.    Agencies  need  an  organized  policy  or  system  relating  to  online  transparency   in  terms  of  collecting,  reviewing  and  publishing  useful  data.  Two  reasons  warrant  special  discussion:   budget  cuts  and  technological  expectations.         The  global  financial  crisis  and  recession  that  began  in  2007  have  had  a  profound  effect  on  revenue   management  at  all  government  levels.  Governments  face  mounting  pressures  to  make  deep  funding   cuts  for  public  agencies,  while  minimizing  the  influence  of  those  cuts  on  frontline  public  services.     Hence,  powerful  and  detailed  financial  management  information  has  become,  to  an  even  greater  extent,   a  key  commodity  in  running  and  overseeing  public  agencies.    Simultaneously,  the  notion  persists  that   nearly  any  aspect  of  a  government  operation  can  be  quantified  and  displayed  electronically,  granting   users  the  freedom  to  decide  what  they  want  to  know.xvi,  xvii       Historically,  management  information  has  been  created  for  the  use  of  managers,  and  the  number  of   managers  has  been  restricted  to  those  people  directly  in  an  employment  or  supervisory  role  in  a   government  department.    The  1966  passage  of  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act  (FOIA)  in  the  U.S.  did  not   fundamentally  alter  this  system:  while  the  public  was  given  a  right  to  review  internal  information,  in   practice,  it  requires  considerable  underlying  expertise  to  know  what  to  ask  for  in  the  first  place.xviii    We   now  confront  the  question  of  whether  the  advent  of  the  Internet  and  the  anti-­‐spending  political  wave   will  bring  about  a  revolution  where  FOIA  did  not.     As  constituents  seek  a  more  comprehensive  understanding  of  government  finance,  they  are  finding  a   system  of  data  generation  and  reporting  that  is  not  geared  toward  their  understanding.     The  prevailing  principle  of  online  transparency  is  the  idea  that  if  data  is  presented  in  a  raw,  machine-­‐ readable  format,  then  someone  could  understand  the  agency’s  work  and  draw  conclusions.xix  The   problem  is  that  the  internal  agency  data  has  not  been  created  with  constituents  in  mind.  When  only  a   handful  of  highly  invested  people  are  reading  about  and  managing  the  money  in  a  government  program,   reports  on  that  program’s  budget,  accounts,  and  financial  strategy  will  not  naturally  contain  much   context.    Users  need  information  on  the  meaning  of  terms,  the  structure  of  what  is  and  is  not  reported,   and  the  history  of  funding  for  different  aspects  of  the  program.    In  many  ways,  the  push  for  online   transparency  has  amplified  this  tendency  to  publish  data  without  context  or  explanation  by  seeking  to   set  data  free,  stripped  of  the  moorings  of  its  original  report,  so  that  it  can  be  rebroadcast  to  a  much   wider  audience  and  analyzed  more  broadly.       When  governments  release  raw  data  sets,  it  is  essential  that  the  fields,  labels,  and  categories  be   representative  of  the  data  being  collected.    Often,  data  sets  are  uploaded  to  a  government  website  with   little  or  no  explanation  of  what  the  fields  represent,  and  users  are  left  to  draw  their  own  conclusions.  In   our  Texas  Education  Agency  case  study  (see  appendix  A),  we  explore  how  a  myriad  of  confusing  data   fields  makes  the  agency’s  data  unintelligible.    Hence,  if  the  data  cannot  be  used  meaningfully,  then  it  is   not  truly  transparent.    

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   Additionally,  data  that  is  unreadable,  unusable,  unappealing,  or  unwanted  by  the  public  does  little  to   contribute  to  improving  a  government’s  transparency.    One  of  the  major  inhibitors  to  making   government  data  easily  accessible  and  meaningful  is  the  lack  of  appropriate  data  formatting.    Recently,   the  amount  of  data  available  on  government  websites  has  increased,  but  much  of  the  new  data  has   come  in  static  file  formats  like  PDF.    Including  valuable  data  in  PDF  format  rather  than  exportable   formats  like  Microsoft  Excel  creates  an  additional,  potentially  lengthy,  step  for  those  wishing  to  analyze   government  data.         Government  datasets  can  range  in  size  from  just  a  single  measure  reported  by  a  few  well-­‐defined   jurisdictions  to  massive  tables  combining  millions  of  data  points  for  thousands  of  entities  across  dozens   or  hundreds  of  metrics.    A  professional  tool  created  to  handle  one  size  of  database  and  to  present  that   data  in  a  way  that  the  public  can  efficiently  use  and  readily  understand  may  not  be  a  good  fit  for  a   database  of  a  different  size.    

    Government  agencies’  failure  to  report  and  present  data  well  is  not  always  a  function  of  the  size  or   complexity  of  the  database.    Rather,  it  may  be  an  indication  that  there  is  simply  a  mismatch  between  the   approach  or  technology  tool  being  used  and  the  real  needs  of  the  users.    Recovery.gov,  for  instance,  is   built  around  a  platform  that  allows  users  to  zoom  in  to  different  levels  of  spending  data  reports.  In  other   words,  the  website  presents  charts  and  visualizations  that  are  more  general  at  one  level,  and  more   specific  at  a  lower  level:  the  site  adapts  as  the  user  explores.    In  contrast,  the  Texas  Education  Agency   employs  a  fire-­‐hose  of  raw  data  at  the  most  specific  level,  which  when  fired  directly  at  the  user,  can   overwhelm  a  non-­‐expert  and  impede  public  understanding  (refer  to  appendix  A).     Even  when  datasets  are  small,  a  mismatch  can  cause  problems.    The  City  of  Manor,  Texas,  a  national  star   in  the  field  of  technology  and  transparency  projects,  once  received  a  very  low  score  for  its  publication  of   city  finance  data.xx    The  sophisticated  systems  that  Manor  used  to  generate  public  input  and  advertise  e-­‐

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   services  and  community  technology  initiatives  were  not  well  suited  to  the  simple  task  of  posting  the   city’s  budget  in  an  accessible  or  interesting  format.     The  formulation  of  an  online  transparency  and  open  data  process  does  not  occur  at  a  single  point  in   time.    Instead,  agencies  must  expect  their  process  to  evolve  as  users’  preferred  technologies  change,   and  as  public  expectations  about  the  time,  place,  and  manner  of  data  publications  shift.  Large,  one-­‐time   outside  contracts  to  deliver  a  website  or  a  database  system  may  not  be  cost-­‐effective  or  deliver  high-­‐ quality  service  in  the  long-­‐  term,  if  frequent  changes  occur  in  the  type  of  data  that  the  agency  gathers  or   how  the  agency  must  publish  data  to  be  the  most  useful  to  the  public.     Agencies  that  do  not  have  a  large  in-­‐house  IT  operation  may  find  themselves  at  a  disadvantage  in   meeting  the  emerging  standards  of  the  open  data  movement.    This  is  true  even  if  they  have  been   provided  large  grants  or  contracts  at  one  point  to  make  a  great  deal  of  information  publicly  available.     The  Texas  Legislative  Budget  Board,  discussed  in  Appendix  B,  may  be  one  such  example.    The  LBB   provides  crucial  and  popular  information  for  state-­‐level  decision-­‐makers,  but  its  lack  of  internal  capacity   to  update  its  site’s  design  and  functionality  on  a  regular  basis  inhibits  accessibility.       In  cases  where  the  government  is  unable  to  continuously  adopt  new  technologies,  we  can  rely  on   intermediary  organizations  to  prepare  data  for  public  consumption.  If  agencies  are  able  to  collect  data  in   a  way  that  is  meaningful  and  lends  itself  to  being  easily  exported,  advocacy  and  media  organizations  can   then  use  this  data  to  present  a  more  digestible  picture,  complete  with  interactivity  and  context.  The  key   part  of  this  process,  though,  is  that  government  agencies  data  must  at  least  be  organized  in  a  way  that   does  not  need  to  be  decoded.  

                                                                                                                xvi

 Michael  Cloud,  “The  Bounty  Hunter  Approach:  Removing  Waste  from  Government.”    The  Center  for  Small   Government  (website),  2005.    http://smallgovernmentnews.com/bounty.htm.  Accessed  April  29,  2011.   xvii  “Obtaining  Records  from  Federal  Agencies  Using  the  Freedom  of  Information  Act.”    The  First  Amendment   Center.  http://www.thefirstamendment.org/foia.html#7.  Accessed  May  1,  2011.   xviii  “Requester  Best  Practices:  Filing  a  FOIA  Request.”    Office  of  Government  Information  Services,  National   Archives  (U.S.).    http://www.archives.gov/ogis/guidance/best-­‐practices-­‐foia-­‐request.html.    Accessed  May  1,  2011.   xix  Mike  Ellis,  “Pushing  MRD  Out  from  Under  the  Geek  Rock.”    Electronic  Museum  (website),  July  13,  2009.     http://electronicmuseum.org.uk/2009/07/13/pushing-­‐mrd-­‐out-­‐from-­‐under-­‐the-­‐geek-­‐rock/.    Accessed  May  1,  2011   xx  Dustin  Haisler,  Remarks  at  the  TXGov2.0  Conference,  January  28,  2011.     http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/12305333  (video  -­‐  cited  section  begins  at  1min45sec.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

PRESENTATION  OF  DATA     While  access  to  well-­‐formatted  raw  data  is  an  important  element  of  transparency,  it  is  just  as  important   for  governments  to  provide  concise  visual  representations  of  data  to  make  it  meaningful  to  users.    One   of  the  biggest  roadblocks  to  high  quality  visual  representations  of  data  is  the  poor  design  of  many   government  websites.    Despite  the  Obama  administration’s  Open  Government  Initiative  and  other   politicians’  ambitious  efforts  to  create  more  modern  and  user-­‐friendly  government  websites,  they  have   improved  little  recently.    Many  government  websites  have  outdated  designs  with  a  look  and  feel  from   the  late  1990s,  and  modern  government  sites  like  Recovery.gov  only  make  older  government  sites   appear  even  more  obsolete.    Users  are  accustomed  to  websites  with  smooth  graphics,  drop-­‐down   menus,  and  other  design  elements  that  break  up  sterile  bocks  of  text.         The  US  Weather  Service  websitexxi  provides  a  good  example  of  outdated  design  elements:    

 

 

However,  an  aesthetically  well  designed  website  by  itself  is  not  the  only  key  to  presenting  visually   appealing  data.    Many  government  websites  lack  sufficient  images,  charts,  graphs,  and  other  visual  aids   to  engage  users  and  help  them  better  understand  the  significance  of  the  data  presented.    A  website  full   of  text-­‐based  reports  and  informational  materials  is  certainly  helpful,  but  images  communicate  the   data’s  significance  more  deeply  and  concisely.    Even  more  helpful  than  static  visuals  is  an  increased   emphasis  on  incorporating  reporting  software  that  communicates  with  government  back-­‐end   databases.    This  would  give  users  an  interface  through  which  they  could  fill  out  a  form  to  create  custom   reports  based  on  information  held  in  databases.    Currently,  few  government  websites  enable  users  to   view  data  in  visual  formats,  limiting  data  analysis  to  only  those  with  technical  knowledge.    

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   The  State  of  California’s  data  sitexxii  is  a  good  example  of  one  that  combines  clean  organization  and   visual  presentation  with  easily  searchable  databases:    

 

 

Organization  and  layout  are  important  elements  of  a  well  designed  website.    Currently,  many   government  websites  categorize  their  content  according  to  classifications  that  are  confusing  and   unintuitive.    Documents  pertaining  to  a  particular  topic  may  be  located  in  multiple  places,  making  it   difficult  to  locate  all  of  the  pieces  related  to  a  topic.    The  haphazard  organization  of  many  government   websites  can  cause  confusion  and  reluctance  to  use  the  website.     Some  government  websites  contain  data  that  is  not  easy  to  find  without  going  through  a  multi-­‐step   process.    This  includes  sites  that  incorporate  reporting  software,  which  often  requires  some  knowledge   of  how  the  underlying  database  works  to  create  the  desired  report.    Sites  should  contain  instructions,   including  “how-­‐to”  guides  to  assist  users  in  successfully  navigating  websites  and  locating  the  appropriate   content.    Many  documents  on  government  websites  lack  any  description  or  summary  of  contents,   presenting  a  barrier  for  many  users  with  limited  time.    Without  structures  that  make  it  easy  to  find   information  and  quickly  discover  the  relevance  of  documents,  it  may  be  too  burdensome  for  the  public   to  use  these  sites.  

                                                                                                                xxi

 http://www.weather.gov  (accessed  May  2,  2011)  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       xxii

 http://data.ca.gov  (accessed  May  2,  2011)  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

ENGAGING  THE  PUBLIC    

Even  when  data  and  government  websites  achieve  a  high  level  of  usability  by  presenting  meaningful   data  in  a  way  that  is  visually  attractive  and  easy  to  use,  their  effect  is  limited  by  the  extent  to  which  the   public  actually  engages  with  the  information.    Any  assessment  of  the  quality  of  government  data   transparency  must  include  an  evaluation  of  how  the  data  will  be  used.    This  presents  a  challenge  for   open  data  advocates,  as  citizen  participation  has  continued  to  decline  across  several  metrics  over  the   past  several  decades.xxiii           The  Internet  promises  to  promote  active  civic  engagementxxiv,  but  many  government  agencies  and   policy-­‐focused  nonprofits  have  shown  a  lack  of  understanding  of  how  to  use  networked  technologies  to   engage  their  constituencies  effectively.    For  example,  a  content  analysis  of  civic  websites  aimed  at  youth   in  the  United  Kingdom  showed  that  many  of  these  sites  fell  far  short  of  providing  the  basic  elements   needed  to  promote  engagement.xxv  Because  of  their  top-­‐down,  hierarchical  structure  and  lack  of   interactivity,  these  sites  have  failed  to  promote  efficacy  in  their  users.     This  lack  of  understanding  of  the  Internet’s  potential  power  to  engage  signals  a  disconnect  between   those  promoting  best  practices  for  government  data  and  those  who  are  in  the  best  positions  to  transmit   that  information  into  action.    As  our  questionnaire  responses  show,  many  of  those  working  for  civic-­‐ based  groups  in  Texas  use  government  data  for  internal  purposes  (research,  trend  tracking,  etc.)  but  are   less  likely  to  use  it  as  the  basis  of  their  communication  with  constituents  (advocacy,  creating  media   products).     In  contrast  to  these  policy-­‐oriented  nonprofits,  many  news  organizations  and  transparency  groups   around  the  country  have  already  taken  up  this  task.    Most  notably,  ProPublica,  a  nonprofit  investigative   newsroom,  and  the  Sunlight  Foundation,  a  nonprofit  focused  on  government  transparency,  have  made   open  government  data  central  to  their  operations.  

 

ProPublica’s  presentation  of  the  Recovery.gov  spending  data  is  a  leading  example  of  the  potential   intermediary  organizations  have  to  translate  open  government  data  into  usable  products.    Its  Recovery   Tracker  tool  is  just  one  example  of  these  products.  xxvi  The  data  and  tools  section  of  its  site  shares  equal   prominence  with  its  investigative  reports,  many  of  which  are  based  on  government  data  sets.     The  Sunlight  Foundation’s  cutting  edge  Sunlight  Labs  initiative  is  another  product  that  makes  accessing   government  data  easier.    While  its  tools  are  mostly  targeted  at  developers,  many  of  its  applications  have   been  used  to  further  its  own  information  dissemination  mission,  through  its  blog,  social  media  channels,   and  other  publications.     The  Texas  Tribune  has  applied  many  of  the  same  techniques  employed  by  ProPublica  to  report  on  policy   in  the  state  of  Texas.    Also  working  from  the  nonprofit,  policy-­‐focused  model,  the  Texas  Tribune  offers  a   data  library,  which  includes  more  than  sixty  data  sets  and  tools.xxvii    Two  thirds  of  the  Tribune’s  web   traffic  is  directed  at  its  data  library.xxviii   While  nonprofit,  public  interest,  and  journalism  organizations  are  creating  products  to  make   government  data  accessible,  their  audiences  are  still  very  small.xxix    In  many  cases,  they  reach  audiences   that  are  already  highly  politically  and  technically  sophisticated.    To  grow  their  audience,  and  hence,  have  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   a  larger  effect,  these  organizations  must  envision  a  role  beyond  information  dissemination.    To  be   sustainable  in  this  media  environment,  new  and  existing  journalism  organizations  must  see  themselves   as  advocates  for  civic  engagement,  media  literacy,  and  open  access  to  information.       Because  of  their  ability,  as  a  whole,  to  reach  wider  and  more  diverse  audiences,  policy-­‐oriented   nonprofits  can  increase  the  number  of  people  who  are  aware  of  the  value  of  open  government  data  and   the  effect  it  has  on  issues  they  care  about.    Our  questionnaire,  answered  by  representatives  of  these   nonprofits  (see  Appendix  G)  showed  that  while  many  of  them  were  accessing  government  data,  they   were  mostly  using  it  for  internal  purposes  such  as  drafting  recommendations,  doing  research,  or   tracking  trends.    Many  fewer  respondents  said  they  used  government  data  as  part  of  their  advocacy  or   media  strategy.    We  recommend  that  policy-­‐oriented  nonprofits  also  make  interaction  with  and   dissemination  of  government  data  central  to  their  advocacy  and  communication  strategies.     These  organizations  have  built-­‐in  audiences  that  have  a  demonstrated  interest  in  policy  issues.    By   demonstrating  the  value  of  government  data  in  lobbying  for  their  constituents’  causes,  these  groups  can   create  a  cycle  whereby  successful  lobbying  proves  the  case  for  open  government  data,  which   encourages  the  public  to  advocate  for  improved  data  standards,  which  will  ensure  more  effective   lobbying  efforts.    Policy-­‐oriented  nonprofits  also  have  expertise,  access  to  human  networks  and  money   that  individuals  do  not  have.  These  organizations  are  able  to  use  those  resources  to  make  meaning  of   government  data  and  aggregate  feedback  into  a  collective  response.    

                                                                                                                xxiii

Robert  Putnam,  "Tuning  In,  Tuning  Out:  The  Strange  Disappearance  of  Social  Capital  in  America,"  in   Controversies  in  Voting  Behavior,  4th  ed.,  ed.  Richard  G.  Niemi  and  Herbert  F.  Weisberg  (Washington  DC:   Congressional  Quarterly,  2001).   xxiv Yochai  Benkler,  The  Wealth  of  Networks:  How  Social  Production  Transforms  Markets  and  Freedom  (n.p.:  Yale   University  Press,  2006).   xxv R.  Gerodimos,  "Mobilising  Young  Citizens  in  the  UK:  A  content  analysis  of  youth  and  issue  websites,"   Information,  Communication  &  Society  11,  no.  7  (2008):964-­‐988.   xxvi  Jennifer  LaFleur,  Dan  Nguyen,  and  Sydney  Lupkin,  "How  Much  Stimulus  Funding  is  Going  to  Your  County?:   ProPublica  Recovery  Tracker,"  ProPublica,  accessed  April  27,  2011,  http://projects.propublica.org/recovery/.     xxvii  "Data  Pages,"  The  Texas  Tribune,  http://www.texastribune.org/library/data/.     xxviii Mallory  Jean  Tenore,  "Texas  Tribune  databases  drive  majority  of  site's  traffic,  help  citizens  make  sense  of   government  data,"  Poynter.,  last  modified  March  2,  2011,  www.poynter.org/latest-­‐news/top-­‐stories/121281/     texas-­‐tribune-­‐databases-­‐drive-­‐majority-­‐of-­‐sites-­‐traffic-­‐help-­‐citizens-­‐make-­‐sense-­‐of-­‐government-­‐data/.       xxix Dotinga,  Randy.  "Nonprofit  Journalism  on  the  Rise."Christian  Science  MonitorFebruary  12,  2008.   http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2008/0212/p03s01-­‐usgn.html  (accessed  April  30,  2011)    

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

RECOMMENDATIONS  

In  the  previous  sections  of  this  report  we  outlined  the  reasons  for  and  main  challenges  to  improving   transparency  of  financial  data.  We  have  divided  the  online  transparency  process  into  three  steps:  how   the  data  is  collected  and  formatted,  its  online  presentation,  and  using  that  data  to  engage  with  the   public.  In  an  ideal  setting  government  agencies  would  be  able  to  collect  and  produce  all  data  with  a   public  audience  in  mind,  rather  than  strictly  for  internal  reporting  demands.  This  data  would  be   presented  to  the  public  by  both  government  entities  and  intermediaries  using  creative  online   technologies  that  are  clear  and  easy  to  use.  Finally,  the  public  would  be  drawn  to  these  websites  and   provide  meaningful  feedback  that  is  used  by  the  government  agencies  in  decision-­‐making.  Reaching  this   ideal  state  of  transparency  should  be  a  goal  for  long-­‐term  transparency  strategies,  in  which  presenting   information  to  the  public  is  the  primary  objective.     We  recognize  that  most  agencies  and  organizations  are  not  currently  in  a  position  to  revamp  their  entire   data  collection  systems  and  invest  in  the  newest  technologies.  The  recommendations  presented  in  this   section  can  be  incorporated  into  current  transparency  efforts,  often  without  incurring  new  costs.  

Origin of Data   In  the  previous  sections  of  this  report  we  outlined  the  reasons  for  and  main  challenges  to  improving   transparency  of  financial  data.  We  have  divided  the  online  transparency  process  into  three  steps:  how   the  data  is  collected  and  formatted,  its  online  presentation,  and  using  that  data  to  engage  with  the   public.  In  an  ideal  setting  government  agencies  would  be  able  to  collect  and  produce  all  data  with  a   public  audience  in  mind,  rather  than  strictly  for  internal  reporting  demands.  This  data  would  be   presented  to  the  public  by  both  government  entities  and  intermediaries  using  creative  online   technologies  that  are  clear  and  easy  to  use.  Finally,  the  public  would  be  drawn  to  these  websites  and   provide  meaningful  feedback  that  government  agencies  can  use  in  decision-­‐making.       As  a  long-­‐term  goal,  agencies  should  move  toward  automatic  online  publication  of  all  public  financial   data  and  supporting  documents  not  subject  to  privacy  and  security  constraints.  Agency  staff  should   work  to  incorporate  public  accessibility  of  data  used  in  their  jobs  while  adhering  to  privacy  and  security   standards.    Short  of  restructuring  agency  data  collection  procedures  at  every  level,  which  currently  is   neither  feasible  nor  affordable,  we  provide  recommendations  to  use  current  resources  and  move   toward  a  more  transparent  system  by  enhancing  data  publication  standards  and  nurturing  a  culture  of   openness.     • Make  data  comprehensible  to  users  outside  the  agency.   This  can  be  accomplished  by  an  automated  process  translating  internal  agency  files  into  reports   or  datasets  that  are  useful  to  the  public  or  by  having  agency  staff  translate  the  codes,  jargon,   and  other  quirks  in  internal  agency  files  into  reports,  tools,  and  datasets  that  are  useful  to  the   public.  Automating  this  translation  process  could  potentially  be  a  one-­‐time  expense  and  may   avoid  using  large  amounts  of  staff  time.  (Appendix  A  discusses  the  benefits  and  shortcoming  of   the  LONESTAR  reports  system,  a  project  of  the  Texas  Education  Agency.)     •

 

Provide  datasets  in  a  format  that  is:   § Machine-­‐readable  (such  as  an  excel  or  comma-­‐separated  value-­‐.csv  file,  not  PDF)   § Exportable  

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   § §

Editable  by  the  user  in  commonly  available  program   Friendly  to  the  creation  of  informative  charts  and  graphs  

If  an  agency  is  serious  about  providing  data  directly  to  the  public  in  a  format  that  most  citizens   can  understand,  without  the  need  for  an  intermediary  interpreter,  then  those  tools  for   visualizing  (chart  and  graph  creation)  become  especially  important.    This  is  one  success  of   Recovery.gov,  which  generates  easy-­‐to-­‐interpret  visualizations  of  most  pages  of  stimulus   spending  data  automatically  without  the  need  for  significant  user  technical  knowledge.         •

Reach  out  to  communities,  both  inside  government  and  intermediary  groups,  to  assess   existing  capacity  to  interpret  the  agency’s  raw  numbers.   We  recognize  that  not  every  public  entity  is  well  suited  to  building  or  running  a  sophisticated   data  website  directed  at  public  consumers.    Hence,  there  is  an  important  opportunity  for   intermediaries  to  take  on  much  of  this  work,  using  the  raw  data  provided  by  the  originating   agency.    Agencies  can  then  use  that  awareness  to  determine  whether  or  not  it  is  vital  for  the   agency  to  invest  in  a  sophisticated  publication  system  that  ordinary  users  can  view  in  detail  and   customize  directly  on  the  agency’s  website.  Armed  with  information  about  existing  capacity,  a   publishing  agency  also  can  make  informed  requests  to  support  agencies  (such  as  the  Texas   Department  of  Information  Resources)  for  assistance.    



Identify  an  individual  currently  on  staff  to  champion  public  usability  and  open  publication.1   One  reason  transparency  efforts  may  fall  short  is  that  transparency  is  simply  forgotten.   Designating  someone  to  ask  questions  such  as,  “Is  this  data  in  a  machine-­‐readable  format?”  or   “Will  a  member  of  the  general  public  understand  these  categories?”  will  help  the  agency   remember  to  make  adjustments  and  enhance  accessibility.  

  •

Make  a  commitment  to  review  and  renew  processes  at  regular  intervals  to  respond  to  new   demands  and  opportunities  for  public  understanding  of  agency  activities.   Even  the  most  transparent  agency  that  combines  an  enthusiastic  agency  culture,  a  high  quality   public  website,  and  effective  relationships  with  partners  inside  and  outside  government  will   stagnate  over  time  if  it  does  not  make  the  effort  to  stay  up  to  date  with  constituent  needs.  

Presentation  of  Data   The  following  recommendations  describe  website  presentation  elements  that  can  help  governments   and  intermediary  organizations  overcome  challenges.        

 



Pay  attention  to  the  visual  appeal  and  layout  of  online  resources,  so  that  people  can  easily   and  quickly  find  their  way  around  the  website.     Currently,  the  online  community  has  very  high  expectations.    Simply  dumping  information  on  a   plain-­‐looking  website  is  no  longer  acceptable  for  the  modern,  tech-­‐savvy  consumer  of  online   data.    With  the  development  of  sleeker  and  more  streamlined  websites  throughout  the  public   (recovery.gov,  data.gov)  and  private  (espn.com,  facebook.com)  sectors,  people  have  come  to   expect  that  not  only  will  any  information  they  want  be  online,  but  that  they  will  be  able  to  find  it   easily.      In  a  world  where  many  people  have  easy  and  free  access  to  the  Internet,  the  cost  of  

                                                                                                                1

 We  of  course  recognize  the  need  to  protect  privacy  rights  for  individuals,  and  so  in  all  cases  “public  financial   information”  refers  to  that  information  which  is  subject  to  FOIA  legislation.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   obtaining  online  information  is  a  person’s  time.    For  most  people,  the  amount  of  time  they  are   willing  to  spend  sifting  through  confusing  website  configurations  is  extremely  small.    The   assumption  that  information  will  be  easy  to  find  means  that  people  will  quickly  navigate  away   from  a  website  that  does  not  meet  their  visual  presentation  expectation.  Specific  tools  for   achieving  efficient  navigation  include:    

§

Visually  direct  users  to  important  site  elements  by  using  images  or  headings.       Like  a  newspaper,  a  website  can  adopt  a  layout  that  draws  the  attention  of  visitors  to   content  through  headlines  and  pictures.      They  serve  as  a  guide  to  the  page,  inviting   visitors  to  view  content  in  the  order  desired  by  the  page  designer.    If  a  lead  picture,   headline,  or  graphic  is  effective,  its  prominence  will  draw  attention  to  a  single  element   on  the  page.    

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Use  sub-­‐headings,  pictures,  and  graphics  to  provide  visual  cues.       These  secondary  visual  cues  direct  visitors  to  additional  areas  of  the  site  once  they  are   finished  absorbing  information  from  the  primary  news  story  or  data  set.      Overall,  a   website  that  incorporates  visual  cues  effectively  both  attracts  and  retains  the  attention   of  visitors.   Divide  content  into  several  broad  categories  using  a  main  menu.       Menus  contribute  added  value  when  they  “drop  down”  to  show  visitors  exactly  where   they  can  find  information  on  the  site  while  also  providing  a  clean  interface  that  is  not   cluttered  with  confusing  links.    Our  re-­‐design  of  the  LBB  website  took  this  concept  into   account,  since  the  current  website  contains  a  large  number  of  poorly  categorized   hyperlinks,  making  site  navigation  extremely  difficult.    Ease  of  navigation  is  another  best   practice  for  website  design.       Ensure  menus  are  consistent  on  all  parts  of  the  website.   Visitors  should  see  the  same  main  menu  no  matter  what  part  of  the  site  they  are   visiting.    This  consistency  makes  it  easy  to  navigate  away  from  the  home  page  and  still   find  information  on  other  parts  of  the  site.       Have  a  search  bar  to  provide  an  additional  mechanism  for  navigation.   Users  seeking  specific  information  that  is  not  contained  in  the  main  menu  or  its   subcategories  need  an  easy  tool  to  search.    This  helps  reduce  the  number  of  people  that   cannot  find  the  information  they  need.    

  •

Design  websites  in  a  way  that  attracts  and  holds  the  attention  of  users.   To  engage  with  the  typical,  impatient  citizen,  governments  need  to  design  their  websites  as  if   they  were  selling  a  physical  product  in  exchange  for  the  time  of  site  visitors.    Therefore,  website   design  is  almost  as  important  as  content  quality  when  it  comes  to  strengthening  the  online   relationship  between  governments,  intermediary  organizations,  and  the  public.  

  § §

Post  short  videos  that  convey  main  ideas  and  summarize  information.   Make  content  accessible  through  social  media  sites  such  as  Facebook,  Twitter,  and   Reddit.   This  will  also  allow  viewers  to  share  information  with  their  networks.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   §

Facilitate  feedback  from  visitors  to  improve  government  performance.       One  purpose  of  pursuing  online  financial  transparency  is  to  make  government  more   accountable  to  constituents.    This  accountability  cannot  occur  if  citizens  do  not  have  a   way  to  communicate  with  elected  officials  and  government  agencies.    Comments   sections  are  good  ways  to  facilitate  feedback,  but  may  not  always  solicit  intelligent   analysis  of  government  activity.    Another  means  of  soliciting  feedback  could  be  to  allow   visitors  to  sort  data  and  create  their  own  charts  to  analyze  information.    These  charts   can  then  be  shared  between  visitors  using  comments  sections  or  social  media.    This   allows  citizens  to  find  the  data  they  need  and  also  informs  governments  of  what  data  is   most  in  demand.      

  Manor,  Texas  excelled  at  making  sure  citizens  felt  that  their  comments  were  taken  seriously  by  creating   a  public  forum  where  comments  could  be  viewed,  implementing  some  citizens  suggestions,  and   rewarding  citizens  for  their  involvement  (see  Appendix  D).      

Engaging the Public  

Based  upon  our  evaluation  of  the  challenge  of  engaging  the  public,  we  are  essentially  recommending   that  news  organizations  see  themselves  more  in  the  role  of  advocates  and  that  policy-­‐oriented   nonprofits  and  other  advocacy  groups  recognize  their  ability  to  create  new  communication  channels   that  supplement  news  organizations.    The  following  recommendations  address  specific  ways  in  which   these  roles  can  be  achieved.     News  Organizations   •

Participate  in  the  creation  of  media  literacy  programs.   The  future  business  model  of  news  organizations—especially  those  such  as  the  Texas  Tribune   and  ProPublica  that  are  specifically  focused  on  policy  reporting—depend  upon  consistently   growing  audiences.    One  way  to  create  that  demand  is  to  demonstrate  to  the  public  the   importance  of  information  and  to  give  people  the  skills  to  find  it.    Many  schools  include  media   literacy  programs  in  their  curricula,  and  those  programs  could  benefit  greatly  from  the  active   participation  of  news  organizations.  

  •

Form  partnerships  with  groups  that  promote  civic  engagement.     News  organizations  depend  upon  an  engaged  public  for  their  survival,  and  so  developing   partnerships  with  groups  that  promote  civic  engagement  will  help  drive  public  demand  for   policy  information.  

  •

Assert  an  active  role  in  the  community  through  public  events  and  programming.     News  organizations  have  the  ability  to  harness  public  attention  in  much  the  same  way  that   libraries  and  museums  do—through  developing  issue-­‐focused  programs  and  hosting  live  events.     These  activities  complement  the  primary  role  of  news  organizations—as  information   providers—as  the  output  from  these  events  and  programs  can  be  turned  into  content  and  news   products.      

  Policy-­‐Oriented  Nonprofits  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   •

Understand  the  power  of  social  media.   While  social  media  channels  can  be  effective  in  broadcasting  information,  the  added  potential   for  the  audience  to  provide  feedback  based  on  that  information-­‐-­‐and  engage  in  conversation   with  organizations-­‐-­‐is  the  true  value  of  these  new  communication  tools.    Sites  like  Twitter  and   Facebook  allow  organizations  to  communicate  with  their  constituencies  on  a  more  personal  and   reciprocal  level,  which  can  be  powerful  in  promoting  self-­‐efficacy  and  continued  engagement.      

  •

Provide  interactivity.     Websites  are  not  harnessing  the  full  power  of  the  Internet  if  they  are  simply  text-­‐based,  static   products.    Many  tools  exist  to  promote  active  engagement  with  information  (see  Appendix  E),   letting  users  do  something  while  they  are  on  a  website.    Interactive  tools  promote  learning   while  keeping  users’  attention  for  longer  periods  of  time.  

  •

State  clear  goals.     Many  civic  websites  fail  to  clearly  state  the  purpose  of  the  campaign  for  which  they  are  trying  to   galvanize  their  audience.    To  effectively  engage  a  constituency,  the  urgency  of  the  mission  and   the  metrics  by  which  success  can  be  measured  must  be  presented  clearly  and  succinctly.  

  •

Show  the  effects.     The  most  effective  online  issue-­‐based  campaigns  communicate  to  users  the  outcomes  of  their   actions  by  highlighting  the  successes,  made  possible  by  user  engagement,  of  past  campaigns.     Connecting  an  individual’s  contribution  to  a  concrete  change  promotes  efficacy  and  encourages   citizens  to  continue  their  engagement.         For  these  recommendations  to  be  effective,  they  must  be  fully  integrated  into  the  operating   mission  and  philosophy  of  the  organization.  These  new  methods  of  communicating  with  an   audience  reflect  a  new  social  paradigm,  which  assumes  interactivity  and  two-­‐way  engagement.     News  organizations  and  issue-­‐oriented  nonprofits  that  continue  to  operate  as  closed  boxes,   broadcasting  information  to  citizens  as  they  see  fit,  will  slowly  lose  relevance  as  new  kinds  of   institutions  emerge  to  fill  the  gap  between  citizens  and  government.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

CONCLUSION In  light  of  the  financial  crisis  and  constraints  on  public  resources,  the  impetus  to  make  public  financial   data  available  online  has  never  been  greater.    In  this  era  of  deficits  and  budget  cuts,  the  public  is  deeply   concerned  with  the  efficient  spending  of  their  taxpayer  dollars.    The  Internet  and  online  tools  provide   unprecedented  potential  for  online  transparency  to  connect  the  public  to  financial  data  in  a  meaningful   way.     While  online  transparency  could  once  be  described  as  the  availability  of  government  data  online  in  open   and  easily  accessible  formats,  machine-­‐readable  and  exportable  data  alone  do  not  stimulate  public   understanding  and  participation.    Online  transparency  must  foster  understanding,  provide  context,  and   promote  interactivity  in  order  to  truly  engage  the  public.    The  shift  we  are  describing  here  is  one  from  e-­‐ government—government  data  on  websites—  to  e-­‐governance—truly  virtual  government  that   promotes  civic  engagement.     This  report  offers  a  variety  of  recommendations  and  best  practices  that  not  only  provide  a  roadmap  for   governments  to  achieve  greater  transparency,  but  also  clear  steps  for  organizations  outside  of   government  to  take  a  role  in  encouraging  civic  engagement  through  use  of  government  data.  As   governments  gather  and  share  financial  information  online,  they  should  consider  how  comprehensible  it   will  be  to  the  public.    Government  agencies  should  continue  to  provide  accessible,  machine-­‐readable,   and  exportable  data,  but  they  should  also  provide  context,  explanations,  or  visuals  to  help  users  make   sense  of  the  information.    By  prioritizing  online  transparency  and  being  adaptable  to  changing   technologies  and  public  expectations,  government  agencies  can  promote  civic  engagement  with  limited   resources.       We  must  stress  that  government  is  not  alone  in  this  process.    Intermediaries  like  news  organizations,   nonprofits,  and  advocacy  organizations  play  an  important  role  in  building  upon  government  efforts  to   improve  online  transparency  and  engage  the  public.    By  using  social  media  and  other  interactive  web   tools,  intermediaries  have  an  opportunity  to  educate,  engage,  and  partner  with  their  constituencies  and   other  organizations.    Intermediaries  are  vital  to  an  effective  feedback  loop  that  provides  the  public  with   government  data,  enables  mechanisms  for  communication,  and  ensures  that  the  government   understands  public  needs  and  priorities.    This  new  social  paradigm,  a  two-­‐way  interactivity  between  the   government  and  public,  is  the  objective  of  online  transparency.       While  the  scope  of  this  report  is  on  short-­‐term,  cost-­‐neutral  recommendations  to  improve  online   transparency  of  financial  data,  we  recognize  the  potential  for  further  study.    For  example,  more  research   is  needed  on  long-­‐term  recommendations  to  improve  online  transparency—not  only  for  financial  data,   but  all  public  information.    The  evolving  nature  of  technology  ensures  that  the  study  of  transparency  will   continue  to  change.      

 

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

Appendix   A.  TEXAS  SCHOOL  DISTRICT  FINANCE  DATA       Summary   Various  entities,  including  the  Texas  Education  Agency  (TEA),  collect  and  publish  large  volumes  of   detailed  data  on  Texas  school  districts’  finances.    Measured  against  basic  standards  of  the  open   government  movement  (such  as  data  being  machine-­‐readable),  these  publications  would  appear  to   represent  a  significant  achievement  in  online  transparency.    However,  the  complexity,  lack  of   standardization,  tendency  to  duplicate  or  leave  out  information,  and  incoherent  structure  of  publication   across  multiple  websites  means  that  even  a  savvy  member  of  the  public  is  hard  pressed  to  extract  any   meaning  from  the  data.    If  this  information  is  to  be  useful  to  stakeholders  in  public  education,  the  TEA     must  reconsider  its  system  of  managing  data  publication,  and  must  begin  promoting  public  consumption   as  a  key  consideration  in  creating  data  sets.       Purpose   This  report  addresses  the  thorny  issues  of  translation,  interpretation,  and  publication  that  hamper  the   practical  use  of  raw  data.    As  both  political  culture  and  technology  culture  adapt  to  the  21st  century,   many  people  who  are  not  traditional  “insiders”  at  government  agencies  –  such  as  legislative  staff,   advocacy  groups,  and  concerned  voters  –  are  taking  on  a  more  direct  role  in  analyzing  those  agencies’   activities,  priorities,  and  finances.    Our  goal  is  to  understand  the  gap  between  potential  new  ways  to   publish  finance  data  and  the  usefulness  of  current  publications.    There  are  significant  barriers,  however,   to  understanding  just  how  big  this  gap  may  be.  These  barriers  result  from  a  limited  understanding  of   factors  such  as:   • citizen  apathy;   • the  resources  and  priorities  of  media  organizations  that  act  as  interpreters  of  government   information  releases;   • the  availability  of  experts  who  develop  and  use  software  and  statistical  programs  that  parse   data;  and   • differences  in  how  government  data  is  used  by  the  public  at  the  local  government  level,  as   opposed  to  at  the  federal  and  state  levels.       These  difficulties  are  not  all  new:  bond-­‐rating  agencies  have  a  long  history  of  attempting  to  boil  down   large  sets  of  financial  information  into  a  simple,  universal  credit  rating  of  an  entity.    That  process,   however,  has  been  narrowly  focused  on  a  specific  audience  and  traditionally  closed  off  from  general   public  view  and  understanding.    The  needs  of  data  users  are  constantly  changing  as  larger  groups  of   people  begin  to  access  government  data.  Determining  just  how  much  transparency  efforts  fall  short   remains  a  moving  target.         Background  of  Texas  School  District  Finance  Data   For  the  purpose  of  this  report  we  sought  a  case  study  that  is  characterized  by:   • plenty  of  raw  numbers;   • widespread  citizen  concern  about  the  subject;   • publishing  agencies  that  have  the  capacity  to  produce  complex  datasets;  and   • data  that  describes  entities  easily  compared  to  one  another  in  an  apples-­‐to-­‐apples  fashion.        

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   To  focus  on  data  publication  management  challenges  we  researched  the  data  published  regarding  Texas   independent  school  districts’  (ISDs)  finances.    With  more  than  1,000  entities,  school  district  level   financial  data  meets  the  criteria  outlined  above.  In  Texas,  school  districts  are  almost  all  independent   local  entities,  carrying  out  comparable  work.  Because  both  direct  state  funding  for  school  districts  and   inter-­‐district  fund  transfers  are  governed  by  complex,  state  legislated  formulas,  the  Texas  Education   Agency  gathers  volumes  of  raw  information  about  districts’  budgets  and  spending  and  aggregates  this   data  in  a  standardized  way.  Additionally,  school  finance  and  investment  in  education  interests  numerous   constituents  who  do  not  otherwise  consider  themselves  to  be  highly  political  or  enthusiastic  about   government  data.  This  is  particularly  true  for  school  district  bond  referendums,  which  draw  the  public     into  important  decisions  about  a  government  entity’s  finances.  Voters’  rejection  of  several  school   district  bond  proposals  in  2010  highlights  stark  differences  of  opinion  regarding  district  finances   between  a  districts’  managers  and  the  public.       This  case  study  examines  33  distinct  data  products  that  are  available  from  official  government  websites.     Rather  than  analyzing  how  data  is  generated  in  the  first  place  in  local  school  districts,  this  report  draws   lessons  from  the  centralized  locations  that  compile  disparate  local  information,  which  they  provide  to   the  public  in  a  standard  form.    However,  we  recognize  that  most  stakeholders  are  interested  in  only  one   or  a  few  districts  and  will  seek  information  at  the  local  level  first  –  by  checking  a  school  district’  website.   Therefore,  we  also  make  recommendations  about  how  local  data  publishers  can  find  new  ways  to   present  information  from  a  central  source  like  the  TEA,  such  as  a  comparison  of  local  debt  burden  with   that  of  other  districts.       Analysis  of  Technical  and  Organizational  Challenges   While  the  existence  of  dozens  of  finance-­‐related  data  publications  presents  a  very  complex  picture  to  an   outside  observer,  much  of  the  raw  information  that  feeds  these  publications  is  compiled  under  a  single   umbrella  at  the  TEA  known  as  the  Public  Education  Information  Management  System  (PEIMS).    This   includes  every  piece  of  demographic,  performance  and  management  information  collected  by  the  state   about  districts,  in  addition  to  budget  and  accounts  figures,  which  is  all  translated  into  numeric  codes  for   central  storage.    PEIMS  is  a  very  powerful  tool  for  the  TEA,  as  it  develops  many  different  reports,  but   there  is  no  easy  way  for  an  outsider  to  navigate  the  encoded  information.  Users  looking  for  specific   information,  such  as  physical  education  spending  per  pupil  in  a  specific  district,  could  spend  hours  sifting   through  data  without  success.     Even  if  a  member  of  the  public  knew,  in  technical  language,  exactly  what  to  search  for  (“data  standards”   for  PEIMS  data  dictionaries  and  code-­‐translation  tables),  there  are  more  barriers  to  using  information  in   the  PEIMS  system.  Currently,  guides  on  how  to  translate  PEIMS  data  exist,  but  users  who  search  for   PEIMS  using  a  search  engine  are  not  directed  to  the  guides.xxx  Essentially,  users  of  PEIMS  raw  data   require  a  map  just  to  find  the  map.  If  a  user  can  find  the  TEA  guides  to  PEIMS  interpretation,  she  is   confronted  with  two  separate  websites  for  code  translation.  One  of  these  contains  numerous,  lengthy   MS  Word  documents  full  of  code  translations  that  provide  no  real  understanding  of  the  database   information.xxxi    The  other  presents  similar  information  in  html  form  rather  than  Word.  These  guides  are   so  full  of  jargon  that  they  fail  to  serve  any  useful  purpose.xxxii       The  original  target  audience  for  the  PEIMS  system  was,  of  course,  professionals  who  administer  and   submit  items  into  the  system  directly.    However,  the  purpose  of  the  information  is  to  meet  state  funding   formula  requirements  and  to  inform  district  officials  and  state  lawmakers  about  school  funding  and   demographics.    Even  within  these  fairly  narrow  professional  confines,  the  system  is  too  convoluted  to   add  value  for  all  but  the  most  sophisticated  users.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data     Instead  of  making  PEIMS  into  a  one-­‐stop  shop  for  easy  data  analysis  and  reporting,  the  TEA  produces  a   many  individually  tailored  reporting  systems  to  answer  specific  questions,  usually  matched  to  a   statutory  requirement  in  the  Texas  Education  Code.xxxiii    Along  the  way,  certain  pieces  of  the  raw  PEIMS   file  are  separated,  recombined,  and  offered  as  a  direct  download  in  various  formats.    Some  of  these  that   are  relevant  to  district  finances  are  listed  in  one  somewhat  obscure  page  in  the  TEA  website;  however,   there  is  no  consistent  pattern  on  the  TEA  website  of  linking  to  this  central  page  when  users  are  seeking   district  finance  data.xxxiv  The  tables  accompanying  this  section  give  a  survey  of  some  of  the  tools,  a  few   of  which  are  addressed  in  more  depth  below.     The  PEIMS  Financial  Data  Downloads   The  TEA  provides  reports  on  school  district  finances  that  advertise  the  ability  to  make  comparisons   between  districts  on  various  measures,  but  the  reports  are  generally  difficult  for  an  outsider  to  use  and   lack  sophisticated  visual  renderings  of  the  results  for  comparison.    The  open  government  movement’s   answer  to  such  situations  has  generally  been  simple:  “give  the  raw  figures,”  thus  enabling  a  person  with   basic  spreadsheet  skills  to  locate  a  row,  column,  or  cell  and  create  a  chart  or  basis  for  comparison.    The   case  of  downloads  for  PEIMS  Financial  data  illustrates  the  limits  of  this  philosophy.xxxv    The  financial  data   for  ISDs  for  even  a  single  budget  for  a  single  year  contains  over  a  million  rows  of  numbers,  which  cannot   even  be  opened  in  MS  Excel.  Using  a  program  such  as  MS  Access,  a  user  only  finds  a  sea  of  numeric  cells   with  no  obvious  way  to  re-­‐convert  them  into  knowledge  that  a  human  can  interpret.    Numeric  values   are  assigned  to  the  names  of  the  districts  themselves,  making  it  impossible  to  identify  the  district  the   data  describes.       State  Aid  Reports    The  most  widespread  method  the  TEA  uses  to  publish  ISD  finance  data  is  custom  html  pages.    In  this   format,  the  TEA  server  (often  reading  a  database  through  a  statistical  program  such  as  SAS,  as  shown  at   the  bottom  of  the  readouts)  pulls  a  specific  number  from  the  state’s  files  and  displays  it  as  text  on  the   reader’s  Internet  browser.  This  restricts  user  ability  to  compare  two  pieces  of  statistical  information   drawn  from  different  geographic  areas,  different  budget  codes,  or  different  measures  of  financial   health.    Instead,  these  narrow  reports  fulfill  mandated  state  collection  of  information  that  is  used  to   plug  into  pre-­‐existing  funding  formulae  and  other  decision-­‐making  structures.    The  question  of  how  to   separate  out  pieces  of  the  larger  PEIMS  database  to  accomplish  a  new,  creative  task  is  critical.  If  outside   observers  are  interested  in  comparing  among  districts’  expenditures  or  debt  per  student  or  per  dollar  of   assessed  property  value  or  per  deviation  from  the  mean  standardized  test  score,  for  instance,  they  are   out  of  luck  unless  the  publication  system  administrators  have  already  built  in  this  particular  calculation.       The  publication  of  TEA  State  Aid  Reports  illustrates  this  problem.    Users  interested  in  understanding  how   much  money  districts  pay  into  and/or  get  from  the  state  may  find  a  page  in  which  the  menu  of  choices   for  looking  up  data  are  not  intuitive  (“Chapter  41  Cost  of  Recapture  Report…IFA  Payment  Report…EDA   Eligible  Debt  Service”)  and  are  not  accompanied  by  a  plain-­‐English  explanation  of  what  each  field   means.xxxvi  Many  of  the  data  lookup  tools  on  this  page  require  every  query  to  be  made  using  a  single   school  district’s  identifier  code,  rather  than  its  name  or  a  format  that  would  allow  cross-­‐district   comparison.    Others  tools,  inexplicably,  allow  selection  from  a  list  of  districts.  And,  once  a  number  or  set   of  numbers  is  retrieved  from  the  PEIMS  system,  the  output  page  generated  for  a  user  does  not  contain   links  to  information  that  could  help  a  user  interpret  what  she  is  seeing.      

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   In  the  end,  the  questions  that  drive  the  public  to  the  database  –  “Is  this  district  getting  a  fair  shake  from   the  state  funding  system?”  “Is  this  district  in  too  much  debt  for  its  size  or  wealth?”    “Is  this  district  at  risk   of  financial  exigency?”  –  are  not  answered.    xxxvii       Snapshotxxxviii  and  LONESTAR   The  publicly  available  database  downloads  and  data  readouts  from  the  TEA  mostly  seek  to  fulfill  a   minimum  technical  standard  for  the  possibility  of  outsider  use  while  failing  to  make  this  workable  in   practice.    There  are  two  examples  of  TEA-­‐driven  data  projects,  though,  which  appear  to  be  more   focused  on  this  “retail”  distribution  of  more  polished  information  to  stakeholders.    Both,  however,   suffer  from  serious  shortcomings  in  terms  of  prominence,  usability,  and  formatting.     Snapshot  is  a  TEA  website  that  operates  under  the  apparent  assumption  that  presenting  less   information  in  a  more  direct  format,  with  fewer  technical  details,  will  create  a  better  understanding  for   less  sophisticated  users.    It  allows  a  user  to  search  for  a  district  by  name  and  provides,  for  a  particular   year,  a  text  readout  of  some  basic  statistics  about  student  numbers,  demographics,  and  overall  spending   per  student.    It  also  divides  expenditures  into  very  broad  categories  such  as  “instructional”  and  “central   administrative”  to  address  questions  of  overhead.    There  is  no  simple  way  to  compare  between  districts   other  than  to  manually  compare  them  to  the  readout,  although  a  user  can  find  a  statewide  report  of   average  figures.    Snapshot  also  sacrifices  the  ability  of  the  PEIMS  system  to  give  a  detailed  look  at  a   district’s  spending  in  a  certain  area,  which  in  theory  should  allow  for  time  series  comparisons  and  cross-­‐ sectional  comparisons.    Regardless,  Snapshot  is  located  away  from  most  of  the  finance  data  reports   published  by  the  TEA,  and  there  is  no  obvious  route  to  finding  it  for  a  new  user  who  is  simply  looking  to   find  data  about  a  district  to  answer  commonsense  questions.     LONESTAR,  a  joint  project  between  the  TEA  and  the  Texas  Higher  Education  Coordinating  Board,  has   similar  challenges  to  those  of  the  Snapshot  system.    Hosted  at  its  own  website  that  is  poorly  linked  by   other  agencies  and  divisions  of  the  TEA,  LONESTAR  is  an  attempt  to  create  a  more  user-­‐friendly  interface   for  certain  parts  of  the  PEIMS  dataset.xxxix    There  is  more  emphasis  on  visually  appealing  formatting  and   presentation.    The  result,  again,  is  that  the  ability  of  the  user  to  truly  “explore”  information  about  a   district  is  severely  limited,  and  the  ability  of  a  user  to  draw  comparisons  between  districts  is  practically   non-­‐existent.  LONESTAR  does  produce  summary  reports  for  five-­‐year  periods  for  each  district.    A  diligent   user  could  copy  out  key  variables  one  at  a  time  from  various  reports  to  build  a  comparison.   Unfortunately,  the  server  appears  incapable  of  rendering  these  summaries  in  html,  forcing  the  user  to   download  a  PDF  of  each  one.    This  limitation  hampers  the  ability  of  outsiders  to  creatively  use  the   information,  although  the  PDFs  do  contain  visually  striking  charts  and  graphs,  which  are  absent   elsewhere  in  school  district  finance  data  publications.       FIRST     Several  TEA  publications  seek  to  categorize  the  districts’  financial  performance  using  criteria  that  go   beyond  the  bare  numbers.    The  most  prominent  is  the  Financial  Integrity  Rating  System  of  Texas   (FIRST).xl    In  FIRST,  districts’  “integrity”  is  aggregated  into  a  very  simple  tier  of  superior,  above  standard,   standard  or  substandard  performance.    Unfortunately,  FIRST  suffers  from  several  major  shortcomings   that  inhibit  its  usefulness  to  the  public  and  also  having  the  potential  to  cause  misunderstandings:     • The  worksheet  used  to  calculate  FIRST  performance  combines  different  types  of  measures,   which  may  cause  confusion  about  what  is  actually  being  described  in  the  rankings.xli    The   district’s  accounting  and  monitoring  integrity  (whether  their  numbers  match  up)  is  mixed  with   their  financial  health  in  terms  of  assets  and  cash  (whether  they  are  running  a  deficit).    On  top  of  

 

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• •





these  financial  numbers,  the  calculation  also  includes  student  outcomes.  Therefore,  a  district  in   financial  trouble  but  which  tracks  its  woes  effectively  may  appear  similar  to  a  district  in  financial   health  but  poorly  managed  accounting  reports.     The  public-­‐access  FIRST  database  makes  it  difficult  to  find  a  district,  as  it  is  not  searchable,  and   the  user  must  click  through  many  pages  of  districts  sorted  alphabetically  or  by  ID  code.   The  pictorial  icons  used  to  denote  the  status  of  a  district  are  not  accompanied  by  obvious   explanations.    Moreover,  the  icon  granted  to  a  district  that  is  failing  in  terms  of  FIRST  integrity  is   very  similar  to  the  one  conferred  by  the  Texas  Comptroller  to  a  district  successfully  meeting  a   certain  threshold  of  financial  transparency.     Unlike  many  other  aspects  of  TEA-­‐published  data,  many  ISDs  are  keen  to  tout  their  FIRST   certification,  so  this  confusing  standard  of  districts’  financial  health  is  often  the  reference  point   for  a  user  interested  in  a  local  district’s  status.       The  FIRST  system  is  a  poor  gateway  for  a  user  into  the  broader  universe  of  finance  data   publications,  since  it  does  not  link  to  other  data  tools  sufficiently  and  does  not  provide  a  guide   for  understanding  what  is  behind  its  ratings.  

    General  Formatting  Inconsistencies   We  have  discussed  a  few  examples  of  TEA  data  publications  within  a  narrow  view.  There  are  substantial   formatting  inconsistencies  in  the  way  TEA  presents  data  to  a  user.  Apparently,  TEA  has  produced   website  data  tools  by  multiple  people,  at  various  times,  with  different  website  designs,  different   underlying  database  software  and  different  context  for  different  audiences.    Hence,  it  is  clear  that   putting  machine-­‐readable  data  in  the  public  realm  does  not  inherently  facilitate  stakeholder’  ability  to   use  or  understand  that  data.         Statutory  Authorizations  as  a  Driving  Force   The  confusing  network  of  datasets  described  above  has  grown  from  years  of  legislation  requiring  the   collection  of  data  related  to  ISDs’  finances,  which  is  used  in  funding  formulas  and  other  management   decisions.  Texas  mandates  have  followed  a  national  pattern  of  demanding  agencies  create  more  narrow   reports  that  answer  specific  questions  related  to  a  specific  provision  of  a  funding  formula  or  federal   report.     Lack  of  Intra-­‐Agency  Coordination   It  appears  that  there  is  limited  communication  within  the  TEA,  especially  regarding  making  online,  public   databases  accessible.    When  initial  contacts  were  made  with  several  divisions,  no  TEA  employee,   whether  in  data  generation,  data  analysis,  data  reporting,  or  data  support  software,  identified  her  job   with  the  task  of  addressing  how  the  agency  informs  the  public  about  school  districts’  financial  health.     There  were  also  cases  in  which  employees  performing  very  similar  functions  on  similar  data  were   unaware  of  each  other.         A  consistent  theme  among  transparency  advocates  and  open  government  professionals  has  been  an   emphasis  on  the  importance  of  having  an  internal  champion  at  any  agency  who  wants  to  develop  a   stronger  base  of  informed  stakeholders.    This  champion  could  develop  or  commission  products  that   other  agency  staff  could  use  to  communicate  better.  She  also  could  serve  as  a  leader  in  developing  a   work  environment  that  encourages  employees  to  consider  the  public  when  collecting  and  publishing   data.       Data  Tools  Mapping  Project  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   To  illustrate  the  numerous  reports  and  datasets  related  to  school  finances  in  Texas,  we  created  an   interactive  map.    The  approach  is  to  categorize  web-­‐based  datasets  and  lookup  tools  that  allow  the   public  to  view  school  district  finance  data.    We  have  mapped  the  datasets  based  on  which  office  is  listed   on  the  website  as  responsible  for  the  tool.    These  categories  do  not  always  match  with  the  present  TEA   structure.    However,  they  illustrate  the  confused  picture  that  outsiders  encounter  when  attempting  to   find  information  about  their  school  districts.  Our  tool  serves  the  first  need,  and  we  hope  to  expand  it   with  an  updated  map  of  actual  responsible  officials  to  help  with  the  second  need.    Uncertainty  about   budget  cuts  to  TEA  administrative  staff  may  delay  this  process.    

                    Recommendations   • Designation  of  a  public  information  manager     The  Texas  Education  Agency  should  assign  one  individual  currently  on  staff  oversight   responsibility  for  how  the  agency  provides  information  to  the  public.    The  agency  should  seek  an   internal  champion  who  can  exercise  leadership  in  ensuring  that  public  use  is  considered  as  data   tools  are  inaugurated  and  updated.   • ISD  Widget  Development   Certain  key  comparative  statistics  generated  from  the  TEA  site  should  be  made  available  as  a   site  widget,  which  is  a  small,  custom  piece  of  HTML  code  that  will  display  when  a  user  visits  a   non-­‐TEA  website  that  has  installed  the  tool.    Hence,  some  of  the  information  on  ISD  websites   could  come  directly  from  TEA,  so  that  citizens  could  get  updated  information  about  their   district’s  finances  without  having  to  rely  on  local  officials  to  update  it.   • Demolition  of  old  website  architectures  

 

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The  TEA  website  has  too  many  sub-­‐servers  listed  in  its  web  addresses  (URLs)  and  too  many   different  frames  (borders  around  a  website  that  contain  standard  links  and  items  that  are  meant   to  appear  on  all  pages  of  a  site).    The  design  inconsistencies  make  it  very  difficult  to  navigate   from  one  area  of  data  to  another,  or  from  one  area  of  the  agency  to  another,  even  when  they   contain  complimentary  pieces  of  data.    There  should  be  a  single  architecture  to  enhance  the   user  experience.   Data.gov-­‐style  full  exploration   The  TEA  and  U.S.  Department  of  Education  borrow  from  sites  like  Data.gov  and  Recovery.gov   where  possible.  These  sites  are  able  to  adapt  very  large  databases  so  they  are  searchable  and   can  be  put  into  graphic  format.   Use  SAS  engine  to  compare  variables   Even  if  the  TEA  cannot  adopt  the  federal  spending-­‐track  capability  to  make  sophisticated  charts   in  the  style  of  data.gov,  the  existing  SAS  engine  under  State  Aid  Reports  should  be  able  to  make   comparisons  between  districts.  This  could  be  accomplished  through  simple  measures  such  as   actually  listing  the  names  of  the  districts,  rather  than  just  their  ID  codes.     Provide  useful  guides  for  PEIMS  Data  Downloads     Publish  MS  Access  Data  dictionaries  that  work  for  outside  users,  with  step-­‐by-­‐step  instructions.      

   

                                                                                                                xxx

 "PEIMS  Data  Standards,"  Texas  Education  Agency,  http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3014.      “PEIMS  Data  Standards  –  2011-­‐2012.”    Texas  Education  Agency.   http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=2147490362.   xxxii  “Public  Education  Information  Management  System  PEIMS  Data  Satndards  2011-­‐2012,”  Texas  Education   Agency,  http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/peims/standards/wedspre/index.html.   xxxiii  Such  as  www.data.gov  or  www.recovery.gov   xxxiv  “School  Finance  Reports  and  Data,”  Texas  Education  Agency,   http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index2.aspx?id=6741&menu_id=680.   xxxv  “Forecasting  and  Fiscal  Analysis,”  Texas  Education  Agency,   http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/school.finance/forecasting/downloads/downloads.html.   xxxvi  “School  District  State  Aid  Reports,”  Texas  Education  Agency,   http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/school.finance/funding/sofweb7.html.   xxxvii  See  the  SoF  for  Austin  ISD  at   http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/cgi/sas/broker?_service=marykay&_program=sfin.sof2011.sas&district=227901.   xxxviii  “Snapshot:  School  District  Profiles,”  Texas  Education  Agency,   http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/snapshot/.   xxxix  “Data  About  Texas  Public  Schools,”  Texas  Education  Agency  LONESTAR,   http://loving1.tea.state.tx.us/lonestar/Home.aspx.   xl  “Financial  Integrity  Rating  System  of  Texas  (FIRST),”  Texas  Education  Agency,   http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3864.   xli  “Figure  19  TAC  §109.1002(d),”    Texas  Education  Agency,   http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter109/19_0109_1002-­‐3.pdf.   xxxi

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

B.  LEGISLATIVE  BUDGET  BOARD  WEBSITE   The  Legislative  Budget  Board  (LBB)  is  “a  permanent  joint  committee  that  establishes  budgetary   recommendations  for  the  Legislature  regarding  state  agencies  and  estimates  the  resulting  costs  in   proposed  legislation.”xlii    The  LBB  plays  an  important  role  in  the  Texas  budgeting  process  by  aggregating   financial  and  performance  data  for  the  state,  and  making  that  information  available  to  legislators  and   the  public  for  use  in  the  budgeting  process.    The  LBB  was  one  of  the  earliest  entrants  into  government   transparency  through  the  implementation  of  its  website  in  the  late  1990s.    While  the  LBB  provides  a   wealth  of  information  about  the  performance  of  state  government,  there  have  been  persistent  calls  for   the  organization  to  increase  transparency  efforts.xliii   Last  year,  an  LBJ  School  research  team  identified  a  number  of  weaknesses  in  the  LBB’s  site  and  a  series   of  general  recommendations  for  improving  the  site’s  functionality.  The  LBB  has  expressed  interest  in   revamping  its  website:  however,  this  is  not  possible  in  the  current  budget  and  legislative  cycle.    Our  goal   for  this  case  study,  therefore,  was  to  take  the  existing  information  from  the  LBB  website  and  organize  it   in  a  more  useful  and  intuitive  format  to  improve  accessibility.   Background   In  assessing  the  Legislative  Budget  Board  website,  we  consulted  recent  publications  studying  factors   influencing  the  success  of  e-­‐government  websites.    These  studies  (Zhang  and  von  Dran,  2002;  Tat-­‐Kei   Ho,  2002;  Lupia  and  Philpot,  2005;  Scott,  2006;  Lau,  2007)  not  only  analyze  how  government  websites   can  better  serve  their  users,  but  also  analyze  the  qualities  that  make  a  successful  website  in  general.     We  have  compiled  the  best  practices  from  this  literature  as  a  roadmap  for  government  entities  facing   problems  similar  to  those  faced  by  the  LBB.       The  2002  Zhang  and  von  Dran  study  used  a  model  described  by  Kano,  a  Japanese  management   consultant  and  researcher,  to  identify  what  customers  expected  from  government  websites  versus  other   types  of  domains.    Kano  identified  three  levels  of  customer  expectation  that  a  website  should  meet  in   order  to  succeed:  (1)  basic,  (2)  performance,  and  (3),  exciting.xliv    The  “basic”  elements  are  those  that  the   customer  takes  for  granted  and  cause  complaints  when  not  included,  the  “performance”  elements   address  the  customer’s  “consciously  stated  needs,”  and  the  “exciting”  elements  are  “those  [unexpected]   features  that  delight  customers  and  inspire  loyalty.”xlv       In  addition  to  identifying  the  levels  of  customer  expectation  defined  by  Kano,  Zhang  and  von  Dran   administered  a  questionnaire  to  experienced  Internet  users  (primarily  highly  educated  females)  that   ranked  the  quality  factors  specific  to  different  website  domains.    These  domains  were  selected  based  on   their  different  user  purposes:  “financial  (e.g.  CNNfn.com,  quote.yahoo.com),  e-­‐commerce  (e.g.   Amazon.com,  e-­‐Bay.com,  or  other  e-­‐tailer  Web  sites),  entertainment  (e.g.  a  cartoon  or  a  game  Web   site),  education  (e.g.  National  Geographic  or  a  university’s  Web  site),  government  (e.g.,  U.S.  Department   of  Labor,  and  the  White  House  Web  site),  and  medical  or  health  information  Web  sites  (e.g.,   WebMD.com  and  Dr.  Koop).”xlvi   For  all  six  website  domains,  the  top  five  ranked  quality  features  included  “easy  to  navigate,”  “up-­‐to-­‐date   information,”  the  existence  of  a  “search  tool,”  and  “accuracy  of  information.”  Other  important  quality   features  included  “completeness/comprehensiveness  of  information,”  “site  technical  features,”  and   “currency/timeliness/update.”  These  features  fit  the  “basic”  and/or  “performance”  categories  of  the   Kano  model.      

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   Specifically  for  the  government  websites,  this  study  identified  the  top  five  must-­‐have  features  as:  (1)   easy  to  navigate,  (2),  clear  layout  of  information,  (3)  up-­‐to-­‐date  information,  (4)  search  tool,  and  (5)   accuracy  of  information.xlvii   Even  though  this  study  is  older,  we  believe  the  standards  it  describes  are  still  relevant,  especially  as  the   Kano  model  helps  explain  the  evolution  of  the  LBB  website.    That  is,  the  Kano  model  argues  that  over   time,  exciting  elements  become  performance  expectations  and  performance  expectations  become   basic.    The  Legislative  Budget  Board  had  the  foresight  to  post  its  information  online  in  the  1990s,  and  at   that  time  the  website  met  standard  customer  performance  expectations.    Over  time,  the  website’s   features  and  structure  have  become  outdated,  as  newer  e-­‐government  websites  adapted  more   “exciting”  features,  such  as  interactive  graphics  and  user-­‐specific  portals.   The  quality  standards  identified  in  the  Zhang  and  von  Dran  study  are  useful,  but  subjective.    For   example,  the  term  “easy  to  navigate”  holds  different  meaning  depending  on  the  user.    A  website   designed  for  internal  use  will  be  easy  to  navigate  for  an  administrator,  but  may  be  harder  to  navigate  for   an  outside  user,  and  a  website  with  all  the  information  gathered  on  the  home  page  may  be  useful  to   some  users,  but  others  may  prefer  a  user-­‐specific  interface.       Alfred  Tat-­‐Kei  Ho  addressed  this  issue  in  Reinventing  Local  Governments  and  the  E-­‐Government   Initiative,  in  which  he  argues  that  e-­‐government  has  transitioned  over  time  from  a  bureaucratic   paradigm,  in  which  agencies  designed  their  websites  according  to  an  administrator’s  ease  of  use,  to  a   customer-­‐oriented  paradigm,  in  which  the  website  aims  to  help  the  citizen  interact  with  government.     This  shift  is  in  line  with  President  Obama’s  2008  memo  on  transparency  and  Director  Orszag’s  2009   Directive  on  Open  Government,  which  stressed  not  only  that  agencies  should  make  their  information   available  online,  but  should  also  allow  for  citizen  feedback  and  ease  of  use.xlviii   The  best  practices  Tat  Kei-­‐Ho  identified  for  agencies  making  this  shift  include  interdepartmental   collaboration,  and  creating  a  one-­‐stop  customer  resource.  He  defines  a  “one-­‐stop  customer  service”  as   going  beyond  offering  a  lot  of  content  on  the  homepage  (the  LBB  status  quo)  to  a  user-­‐oriented  portal   design,  which  categorizes  information  and  services  according  to  the  needs  of  different  user  groups.xlix   Texas.gov  is  a  good  example  of  a  user-­‐oriented  portal  design,  with  the  information  on  the  homepage   categorized  into  intuitive  sections:  Do,  Discover,  Connect  and  Ask  which  then  have  examples  of  what   users  have  found  in  each  category  highlighted  below  the  links.             Tat  Kei-­‐Ho’s  study  argues  that  not  only  will  the  user-­‐oriented  portal  structure  encourage  citizen   participation,  but  also  will  improve  the  government-­‐citizen  relationship  through  efficient  provision  of   information  and  “customer-­‐responsive  processes.”l  However,  the  study  also  notes  that  this  shift  cannot   occur  without  an  advocate  within  government  who  can  prioritize  making  these  changes.       Edwin  Lau,  in  the  chapter  “Electronic  Government  and  the  Drive  for  Growth  and  Equity”  in  Governance   and  Information  Technology,  argues  that  government  websites  can  boost  user  satisfaction  by  collecting   “statistics  on  the  number  of  visitors  and  page  views,  frequency  with  which  pages  are  clicked  (or  not)  and   the  most  common  search  terms  in  order  to  better  understand  who  is  using  the  portal  and  for  what   purpose.”li    Lau  also  notes  that  www.usa.gov  ensures  user  satisfaction  by  conducting  usability  and  focus   group  testing  to  “verify  the  effectiveness  of  the  information  and  services  to  which  it  is  providing   access.”lii        

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   Lau  agrees  with  Tat  Kei-­‐Ho  that  collaboration  between  agencies  can  help  them  identify  the  most   important  information  requested  by  users.    He  also  argues  that  collaboration  can  help  agencies  “detect   deficiencies  in  the  offering  of  online  services.”liii   Lupia  and  Philpot  identified  yet  more  website-­‐building  best  practices,  arguing  “the  viewer’s  perception   of  a  site’s  effectiveness  and  efficiency  is  critical.”    (Italics  in  original).    They  conducted  a  survey  to  collect   data  on  how  viewers  assess  a  website’s  effectiveness,  concluding  that  “a  certain  site  can  increase  a   viewer’s  political  interest  during  a  viewing  session  only  if  she:   ● is  aware  of  the  site  or  visits  a  site  that  makes  her  aware  of  it;   ● views  the  site;   ● perceives  the  site  as  providing  interesting  information  effectively  and  efficiently;   ● stays  on  it  long  enough  to  elaborate  on  the  site’s  content;  and   ● the  elaboration  changes  her  beliefs  about  some  phenomena,  which,  in  turn,  changes  her  interest  in   politics.”   The  LBB’s  website  does  not  necessarily  aim  to  increase  a  viewer’s  political  interest,  but  the  second  and   third  points  are  intuitive  requirements  for  a  successful  website:  that  the  viewer  perceives  the  site  as   providing  information  she  wants  and  that  the  viewer  stays  on  the  site  long  enough  to  take  in  what  the   site  offers.   Lastly,  James  K.  Scott’s  2006  study  “E”  the  People:  Do  U.S.  Municipal  Government  Web  Sites  Support   Public  Involvement?  offers  recommendations  for  successful  public  involvement  on  e-­‐government   websites  (not  just  municipal  web  sites,  as  the  title  suggests).    The  study  makes  two  salient  points:   (1)  government  websites  that  cater  to  diverse  constituent  groups  and  their  needs  and  that  make   information-­‐gathering  and  transactions  more  convenient  will  “make  government  agencies  more   effective  and  competitive  and  foster  greater  citizen  interest  and  involvement  in  public  issues.”liv   (2)  Making  government  information  easier  to  find  will  make  government  more  open  and  accountable  to   constituents.lv   In  sum,  the  literature  suggests  the  following  best  practices  for  successful  government  websites  and   websites  in  general:   ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ●

 

exceed  users’  expectations  by  providing  “performance”  and  “exciting”    elements   make  the  website  easy  to  navigate  by  using  a  user-­‐specific  portal  design   provide  up-­‐to-­‐date  information   provide  a  search  tool   ensure  accuracy  of  information   ensure  completeness/comprehensiveness  of  information   provide  up-­‐to-­‐date  technical  features   keep  website  content  current     allow  for  citizen  feedback   make  information-­‐gathering  and  transactions  convenient   collaborate  with  other  agencies  to  determine  users’  information  needs   conduct  usability  testing  to  ensure  the  portal  design  meets  users’  needs   collect  statistics  to  determine  who  is  using  the  website  and  for  what  purpose  

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data     LBB  Site  Structure   We  examined  the  LBB’s  current  website’s  structure  to  identify  major  weaknesses  and  how  to  best   address  them.   Poor  Visual  Presentation   The  LBB’s  website  currently  consists  of  a  series  of  web  links  organized  under  the  following  headings:   About  the  LBB,  LBB  Staff,  Budget  Bills  and  Reports,  Performance  Reports  and  Reviews,  Agency  Reference   Documents,  Other  Publications  and  Resources,  Agency  Data  Entry,  and  Agency  Instructions.      The  site  is   fully  text-­‐based,  with  no  images  except  for  two  logos  at  the  top  of  each  page.    Almost  all  of  the  links  on   the  website  are  to  PDF  documents  housed  on  the  LBB’s  site,  many  of  them  containing  important   qualitative  and  quantitative  data  about  the  state.    Today’s  Internet  users  are  accustomed  to  much  more   visually  appealing  sites,  and  websites  such  as  www.recovery.gov  have  now  become  a  standard  for     government  website  graphic  design.    Without  images  to  help  illustrate  the  LBB’s  work,  the  large  amount   of  text  may  be  overwhelming  to  the  user  and  discourage  further  use  of  the  site.   Outdated  Design   The  current  LBB  website  resembles  a  design  style  reminiscent  of  sites  created  in  the  late  1990s,  and   some  of  the  content  on  the  site  appears  equally  outdated.    The  predominance  of  text  and  lack  of  images   makes  the  site  visually  unappealing  and  out  of  sync  with  common  design  styles  to  which  users  are   accustomed.    The  lack  of  drop-­‐down  menus,  tabs,  or  other  means  of  organizing  content  force  the  user  to   adjust  to  how  the  website  functions,  rather  than  being  able  to  intuitively  understand  how  to  navigate.     The  presence  of  content  that  appears  to  be  remnants  of  the  original  launch  of  the  LBB’s  website  leads   the  user  to  believe  proper  site  maintenance  is  not  being  undertaken,  making  the  user  less  likely  to  visit   the  site  frequently.    Links  to  download  Adobe  Reader  9  and  Crystal  Reports  appear  to  be  randomly   placed,  and  the  login  pages  for  state  agencies  and  staff  use  appear  to  be  based  on  early  Internet  designs.           Confusing  Categorizations   Understanding  which  documents  are  classified  under  each  of  these  headings  is  not  an  intuitive  process,   and  there  is  significant  overlap  between  some  categories,  contributing  to  user  difficulty.    For  example,   the  Comptroller’s  request  for  agencies  to  submit  revised  budgets  reduced  by  five  percent  (known  as  the   “Five  Percent  Reduction”)  includes  documents  listed  under  four  separate  headings.    This  makes  it   difficult  for  even  legislative  staff  to  easily  find  the  specific  documents  they  need  to  participate  in  the   process.    The  “Links”  category  is  the  most  confusing,  with  a  wide  spectrum  of  information  ranging  from   approved  reduced  budgets  to  links  to  staff  email  access  or  to  download  Adobe  Reader  9.    Furthermore,   the  LBB  does  not  include  descriptions  of  the  documents  included  on  the  website,  so  users  must  dig   through  documents  to  find  their  specific  information.   Our  Vision  for  the  LBB   To  envision  how  the  LBB  could  become  more  transparent  solely  by  better  utilizing  the  resources  already   available  on  its  website,  we  decided  to  develop  a  re-­‐design  of  the  LBB’s  website.    The  re-­‐design  better   organizes  the  existing  resources  and  presents  them  in  a  manner  meaningful  to  users  following  the   recommendations  for  presentation  discussed  in  this  report.  Our  goal  is  to  reinforce  our  main  point,  that   a  site  is  not  transparent  unless  it  is  easily  accessible  and  used  in  a  meaningful  way.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   A  New  Site  Design   The  first  major  change  we  recommend  for  the  LBB’s  site  is  to  modernize  the  “look  and  feel”  so  that   users  will  feel  comfortable  navigating  it  as  easily  as  any  other  website.    As  noted  in  the   recommendations  section,  the  price  people  pay  for  using  a  website  is  time  and  most  are  unwilling  to   spend  much  of  it  trying  to  decipher  a  confusing  website.  With  a  freely  available  website  template,  we   were  able  to  create  a  more  colorful  design  for  the  site  that  is  in  sync  with  the  standard  set  by  other   government  sites.  The  re-­‐design  did  not  require  any  extraordinary  level  of  web  design  expertise  and  we   added  a  minimal  number  of  images  to  the  site,  to  reflect  our  belief  that  improvements  may  be  made  to   the  LBB’s  site  simply  by  re-­‐branding  and  organizing  the  information  already  available.   Document  Classification  System   We  recommend  website  designers  should  divide  content  into  broad  categories  using  a  main  menu.  An   important  way  we  addressed  the  lack  of  organization  on  the  LBB’s  website  was  through  development  of   a  system  of  classifications  to  make  the  categorization  of  documents  more  logical.    In  the  first  step,  we   identified  broad  common  themes  within  existing  information  on  the  LBB’s  current  website.  We  then   included  these  classifications  as  tabs  at  the  top  of  our  version  of  the  site  –  About  LBB,  Budget,  State   Government,  Federal  Funds,  How  To,  and  Reporting.    Under  each  of  these  main  categories,  we  created  a   series  of  sub-­‐categories  that  help  to  further  delineate  the  differences  among  documents  available  on   the  site.  Through  using  a  document  hierarchy  that  better  reflects  what  is  available  on  the  website,  our   goal  is  to  make  LBB’s  work  more  transparent  by  making  data  accessible.   “How-­‐To”  Guides  for  Site  Use   Because  of  the  complexity  of  some  of  the  LBB’s  database  resources  (particularly  the  budget  reporting   and  contract  searches),  we  developed  a  series  of  guides  to  assist  users  in  making  the  best  possible  use  of   those  resources.    These  guides  aid  Legislative  members,  agencies,  media,  or  even  members  of  the  public   in  accessing  information  though  step-­‐by-­‐step  instructions.  For  example,  certain  databases  contain   search  terms  or  options  whose  meanings  are  not  readily  apparent  from  their  labels,  so  we  developed  a   guide  to  clarify  those  terms  so  people  better  understand  how  the  database  functions.  The  goal  of  this   component  is  remove  barriers  and  increase  usage  of  the  LBB’s  resources.   Descriptions  of  Document  Contents   Additionally,  we  created  a  series  of  descriptions  of  document  contents  to  improve  organization  of  the   site.  Some  documents,  such  as  the  Texas  Factbook,  contain  extremely  valuable  information  that  is  not   apparent  in  the  title  of  the  document.  We  took  a  look  at  the  individual  documents,  wrote  a  one-­‐   sentence  summary,  and  included  that  with  each  document.  Our  goal  was  to  make  data  more  accessible   by  making  it  easier  for  users  to  understand  what  they  can  extract  from  each  of  the  documents  on  the   website.          

                                                                                                                xlii

 “Tribpedia:  Legislative  Budget  Board,”    The  Texas  Tribune,  accessed  April  27,  2011,     http://www.texastribune.org/texas-­‐taxes/legislative-­‐budget-­‐board/about/.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       xliii

 82R  4580  KJM-­‐D:  Relating  to  the  maintenance  by  the  Legislative  Budget     Board  of  a  searchable  database  containing  certain  budget  information.  ,  S.  SB     700,  82d  Leg.,  82(R)  (Tex.  ),  accessed  February  23,  2011,     http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB700.   xliv  Ping  Zhang  and  Gisela  M.  von  Dran,  "User  Expectations  and  Rankings  of  Quality  Factors  in  Different  Web  Site   Domains,"  International  Journal  of  Electronic  Commerce  6,  no.  2  (Winter  2001/2002):  9-­‐33.   http://www.jstor.org/stable/27751011.   xlv  Ibid.,  p.  12.   xlvi  Ping  Zhang  and  Gisela  M.  von  Dran,"User  Expectations  and  Rankings  of  Quality  Factors  in  Different  Web  Site   Domains,"  International  Journal  of  Electronic  Commerce  6,  no.  2  (Winter  2001/2002):  27.   http://www.jstor.org/stable/27751011.   xlvii  Ibid.,  p.  25.   xlviii  Peter  R.  Orszag,    Open  Government  Directive,    http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/documents/open-­‐ government-­‐directive.   xlix  Alfred  Tat  Kei  Ho,    "Reinventing  Local  Governments  and  the  E-­‐Government  Initiative,"  Public  Administration   Review  62,  no.  4  (July-­‐August  2002):  437.  http://jstor.org/stable/3110358.   l  Alfred  Tat  Kei  Ho,  "Reinventing  Local  Governments  and  the  E-­‐Government  Initiative,"  Public  Administration   Review  62,  no.  4  (July-­‐August  2002):  436.  http://jstor.org/stable/3110358.   li  Edwin  Lau,  Governance  and  Information  Technology:  From  Electronic  Government  to  Information  Government,   ed.  Viktor  Mayer-­‐Schonberger  and  David  Lazer  (Cambridge:  MIT  Press,  2007),  46.       lii  Ibid.       liii  Edwin  Lau,  Governance  and  Information  Technology:  From  Electronic  Government  to  Information  Government,   ed.  Viktor  Mayer-­‐Schonberger  and  David  Lazer  (Cambridge:  MIT  Press,  2007)  36.       liv  James  K.  Scott,  "'E'  the  People:  Do  U.S.  Municipal  Government  Web  Sites  Support  Public  Involvement?"  Public   Administration  Review  (May-­‐June  2006):  345.   lv  Ibid,,  p.  349.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

C.  CITY  OF  KYLE     Members  of  the  2010  State  Finances  and  Online  Transparency  Policy  Research  Project  conducted   research  with  the  City  of  Kyle  to  gain  perspective  on  the  challenges  facing  local  governments  regarding   improving  financial  transparency  online.  City  Officials  in  Kyle  identified  issues  such  as  technical   capabilities,  including  lack  of  standardized  databases  and  software,  privacy  concerns  about  certain  types   of  information  and  uncertainty  about  how  the  public  might  interpret  data  without  context.lvi  Despite   these  challenges,  Kyle  has  made  some  important  achievements  in  online  transparency  and  City  officials   continue  to  move  forward.  Now,  City  officials  are  seeking  input  from  the  public  for  a  website  redesign   aimed  at  making  City  information  more  useful  and  accessible.     In  the  last  year,  Kyle  officials  remained  committed  to  attaining  the  Gold  Circle  Level  of  the  Texas   Comptroller’s  Leadership  Circle,  which  recognizes  local  governments  for  their  efforts  in  online  financial   transparency.  Gold  reflects  the  highest  level  of  transparency  and  goes  to  local  governments  that  publish   the  budget,  audit  and  check  register  online.  The  award  criteria  also  include  ease  of  access,  contact   information  for  local  officials  and  public  information  requests,  among  others.lvii  With  guidance  from  the   prior  research  project,  Kyle  received  the  Gold  Circle  recognition  in  December  2010.     Because  of  Kyle’s  ongoing  commitment  to  improving  online  transparency,  we  decided  to  continue  the   dialogue  begun  last  year.  We  opted  to  approach  Kyle  focusing  on  the  civic  engagement  perspective.   With  Kyle’s  recent  award,  we  saw  an  opportunity  to  see  how  the  public  has  reacted,  what  changes  the   city  has  seen  in  engagement  and  what  plans  Kyle  officials  have  for  further  improving  transparency  and   engaging  the  public.  With  City  official’s  willingness  to  seek  public  input,  we  also  saw  an  opportunity  to   study  Kyle’s  efforts  to  encourage  civic  engagement.  

 

The  Road  to  Gold   We  met  with  an  official  in  the  Finance  Department  in  Kyle  who  played  an  integral  role  in  helping  the  City   achieve  Gold.  She  indicated  that  City  leaders  are  looking  for  new  ways  to  make  financial  information   available  online  beyond  the  criteria  of  the  Leadership  Circle.  She  participated  in  the  Texas  Government   2.0  conference  that  we  held  in  January  where  she  gained  insight  on  displaying  financial  data  in  user-­‐ friendly  formats.   Kyle’s  final  step  to  reach  the  Gold  Circle  level  was  publication  of  the  City’s  check  register  online.  In  that   process,  Kyle  officials  encountered  many  of  the  anticipated  barriers.  The  most  difficult  part  of  that   process  was  getting  the  software  to  report  the  data  needed  for  publication  without  investing  additional   financial  resources.  City  officials  worked  with  the  vendor  and  were  able  to  create  a  customized  report   within  the  existing  software  package.  A  challenge  in  customizing  the  report  was  how  to  display  check   register  data  while  maintaining  an  appropriate  level  of  individual  privacy.  The  City’s  website  was  also  a   limitation,  requiring  the  department  to  “make  due  with  what  you  have.”lviii   Since  receiving  the  award,  Kyle  officials  have  not  received  much  feedback  from  the  public.  Some  were   expecting  potentially  negative  feedback  for  publishing  the  check  register,  but  that  has  not  occurred.  Kyle   also  has  not  had  much  positive  feedback.  Local  news  media  covered  the  award,  and  the  City  publicized  it   in  print  and  electronic  newsletters.  To  continue  efforts  toward  improved  transparency,  City  officials  feel   they  need  public  input.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   Next  Steps   Though  Kyle  officials  would  like  to  see  some  of  the  recommendations  from  the  previous  year   implemented,  such  as  a  template  or  opensource  software  that  cities  can  use  to  publish  financial  data  in   a  standard  format,  they  are  moving  forward  with  a  website  redesign.  The  City’s  goal  for  the  redesign  is   to  improve  the  ability  of  all  departments  within  the  City  to  make  information  publicly  available.   Members  of  the  Finance  Department  know  that  they  need  input  from  the  citizens  of  Kyle  so  they  can   make  the  best  use  of  the  new  website.  Officials  would  like  to  hear  from  a  broad  sample  of  residents,  not   just  the  few  who  are  highly  involved  in  City  government.   The  new  web  platform  will  make  it  easier  for  individuals  in  each  department  to  update  information  and   make  changes  to  the  content  and  display.  The  Finance  Department  produces  charts,  graphs  and   summary  information  for  City  Council  members  and  the  official  we  met  with  felt  the  web  redesign   would  improve  their  ability  to  publish  that  kind  of  information  to  the  public,  as  well.  The  site  will  include   feedback  mechanisms  for  the  public  to  communicate  with  City  officials  and  input  on  the  site.  Engaging   the  public  in  this  way  is  a  critical  step  in  moving  beyond  the  e-­‐government  model  of  providing  forms  and   documents  online  to  an  e-­‐governance  model  that  encourages  residents  to  interact  with  City  leaders  and   participate  in  guiding  the  City’s  direction.lix   When  government  agencies,  such  as  the  City  of  Kyle,  take  action  to  improve  transparency,  they  must   attempt  to  make  those  efforts  known  if  they  want  to  move  beyond  a  one-­‐way  information  portal.   Previous  visitors,  who  did  not  find  the  information  they  needed,  may  not  return  because  of  past   experience  and  new  visitors  may  not  be  aware  of  efforts  to  improve  transparency.  Dialogue  with  the   public  is  necessary  for  governments  to  gauge  the  success  of  their  efforts,  to  understand  the   constituencies  they  serve  and  to  come  together  to  improve  government  and  the  community.  The  first   step  involves  publicizing  transparency  efforts  and  then  seeking  public  input.  Working  together  with  the   community,  governments  at  all  level  can  begin  to  practice  e-­‐governance.   We  assisted  Kyle  officials  in  developing  and  distributing  a  questionnaire  aimed  not  only  at  those  well   versed  in  city  government,  but  also  casual  users  of  the  City’s  website.  With  consultation  from  several   City  departments,  we  developed  a  brief  electronic  questionnaire  to  gauge  familiarity  with  the  City’s   website,  reasons  for  use  and  to  solicit  feedback  on  ways  to  improve  the  site.  Preliminary  results  were   not  available  by  the  final  publication  of  this  report.  Input  from  this  questionnaire  will  provide  guidance   to  City  officials  in  fine-­‐tuning  the  current  redesign  and  create  ideas  for  future  improvements,  helping  the   City  of  Kyle  exceed  current  local  government  transparency  standards  and  truly  engage  city  residents.  

                                                                                                                lvi

 LBJ  School  of  Public  Affairs  -­‐  Policy  Research  Project,  Texas  Financial  Transparency:  Open  and  Online,  ed.  Matt   Hartman,  Claudia  Montelongo,  and  Jennifer  Quereau,  May  12,  2010,  http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/cpg/docs/prp.pdf.     lvii  "Texas  Comptroller  Leadership  Circle,"  Texas  Transparency:  Window  on  State  Government,  accessed  April  27,   2011,  http://www.texastransparency.org/local/leadership.php.     lviii  Personal  Interview,  March  3,  2011   lix  Ibid  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

D.  CITY  OF  MANOR:  Transparency  on  a  Budget    

The  Internet  era  has  improved  the  public’s  access  to  information  and  raised  expectations  regarding     government  openness.  Now,  governments  at  all  levels  can  make  large  amounts  of  information  available   to  the  public  online  with  ease.  A  concern  of  many  local  governments  is  that  they  simply  do  not  have  the   budget  to  change  existing  systems.  However,  the  expense  of  implementing  more  transparent  methods   of  government  can  be  minimal.  Consider  the  case  study  of  Manor,  Texas.   Manor  is  a  suburb  of  Austin  with  a  population  of  about  6,500.  The  City  has  had  its  share  of  financial   constraints,  particularly  with  the  recession.  Dustin  Haisler,  CIO  for  Manor  until  November  2010,  needed   to  be  resourceful  and  stretch  his  $100,000  budget  thin.  In  2008,  he  began  allocating  this  budget  towards   small  efforts  that  would  improve  transparency,  including  accounts  with  social  networking  sites  and   records  retention  for  these  accounts.lx  This  was  followed  by  rebuilding  the  website  to  include   collaborative  components,  using  the  free  and  simple  Wordpress  publishing  platform.    Eventually,  Haisler   started  a  crowdsourcing  suggestion  website  called  Manor  Labs  and  installed  QR  codes  around  the  city.   Manor  Labs  is  a  website  where  residents  make  suggestions  and  then  vote  on  the  best  ideas.  Ideas  earn   point,  called  Innobucks,  which  are  redeemable  for  prizes.  From  Manor  Labs  came  the  idea  for   SeeClickFix,  an  app  that  enables  residents  to  report  maintenance  problems  around  the  city,  costing   Manor  only  $1200  a  year.lxi   Manor  Labs  was  built  by  Spigit,  a  social  networking  software  company  in  California.  Spigit  waived  the   typically  $5000  a  year  fee  for  the  project,  as  Manor  was  one  of  its  first  customers.  Manor  has  similar   arrangements  with  over  a  dozen  other  technology  companies,  and  has  found  other  deals  through   testing  products  and  using  open  source  software.lxii  More  than  2,000  residents  of  Manor  have  visited   Manor  Labs,  which  is  much  higher  than  their  usual  city  council  meeting  attendance.lxiii   Quick  Response  (QR)  codes  are  two-­‐dimensional  bar  codes  made  up  of  printed  squares  in  various  sizes,   as  large  as  four  by  four.lxiv  These  squares  hold  more  information  than  typical  barcodes.lxv  Residents  can   easily  download  free  software  onto  their  mobile  phone,  take  a  photo  of  the  barcode  with  their  camera,   and  be  directed  to  a  website  with  more  information  about  the  place  or  item.  The  City  uses  codes  to  label   construction  projects,  City  buildings,  and  City  vehicles,  which  they  can  scan  to  get  real-­‐time  work   updates.lxvi   Manor  used  an  online,  downloadable  code  generator  to  encode  specific  URLs  on  to  each  QR-­‐code.  There   have  been  some  improvements  over  the  three  years,  like  limiting  the  codes  to  80  characters  to  better   enable  camera  phones  to  read  them.  This  can  be  done  with  URL  compression  technologies  like  Tiny   URL.lxvii  The  codes  are  reusable  so  beyond  the  initial  investment,  the  only  cost  to  Manor  is  the  paper  and   printing  for  the  QR  codes,  and  the  minimal  time  to  update  and  change  the  websites  affiliated  with  each   QR  code.lxviii  (See  Appendix  E)   These  tools  have  saved  the  City  time,  money  and  resources,  while  tremendously  boosting  civic   engagement.  The  QR  program  has  reduced  the  number  of  calls  about  public  projects,  and  70  percent  of   the  population  has  signed  up  for  the  online  bill  payment  resources  implemented  in  2008.lxix   Although  Haisler  left  the  City  of  Manor  after  accepting  a  position  at  Spigit,  the  City  continues  to  develop   these  programs  through  public  education  and  working  with  local  cell  phone  merchants  to  install  the  

 

40  

Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   software  in  phones  at  purchase.lxx  To  prove  that  this  case  study  is  not  an  anomaly,  Manor  is  also   currently  working  with  the  small,  rural  City  of  De  Leon  (population  2,500)  to  implement  the  same   technologies.lxxi    Manor  received  the  Most  Innovative  Use  of  Technology  award  in  Texas  in  2008  from  the   Center  for  Digital  Government.lxxii  

                                                                                                                lx

 Max  Chafkin,  "Why  the  High-­‐Tech  Industry  Loves  Manor,  Texas,"  Inc.  ,  August  24,  2010,  accessed  March  1,  2011,   http://www.inc.com/magazine/20100901/why-­‐the-­‐high-­‐tech-­‐industry-­‐loves-­‐manor-­‐texas.html.     lxi  Ibid.       lxii  Michael  Jeffers,  “Cheap  ‘QR’  Codes  Are  a  Budget-­‐Friendly  Project  for  Manor,  Texas,”  Government  Technology’s   Digital  Communities,  February  4,  2009,  accessed  March  1,  2011,   http://www.digitalcommunities.com/articles/Cheap-­‐QR-­‐Codes-­‐Are-­‐a-­‐Budget-­‐Friendly.html..   lxiii  Ibid.       lxiv  Susan  Gonzales,  “23-­‐year-­‐old  techie  puts  Manor  on  map,”  Austin  American-­‐Statesman,  January  3,  2010,   accessed  March  1,  2011,  http://www.statesman.com/news/texas/23-­‐year-­‐old-­‐techie-­‐puts-­‐manor-­‐on-­‐map-­‐ 160878.html.   lxv    Michael  Jeffers,  “Cheap  ‘QR’  Codes  Are  a  Budget-­‐Friendly  Project  for  Manor,  Texas,”  Government  Technology’s   Digital  Communities,  February  4,  2009,  accessed  March  1,  2011,   http://www.digitalcommunities.com/articles/Cheap-­‐QR-­‐Codes-­‐Are-­‐a-­‐Budget-­‐Friendly.html.   lxvi  Dustin  Haisler,“White  Paper:  Redefining  Government  Communication  with  QR-­‐Codes,”  City  of  Manor,   September  2009,  accessed  March  1,  2011,  http://www.cityofmanor.org/comwhitepaper.pdf.   lxvii  Ibid.       lxviii  Max  Chafkin,  "Why  the  High-­‐Tech  Industry  Loves  Manor,  Texas,"  Inc.,  August  24,  2010,  accessed  March  1,  2011,   http://www.inc.com/magazine/20100901/why-­‐the-­‐high-­‐tech-­‐industry-­‐loves-­‐manor-­‐texas.html.     lxix  Nick  Judd,  “In  Texas,  a  Small  Town  Hopes  for  a  Gov  2.0  Makeover  Miracle,”  techPresident,  September  1,  2010,   accessed  March  1,  2011,  http://techpresident.com/blog-­‐entry/texas-­‐small-­‐town-­‐hopes-­‐gov-­‐20-­‐makeover-­‐miracle.   lxx  Susan  Gonzales,  “23-­‐year-­‐old  techie  puts  Manor  on  map,”  Austin  American-­‐Statesman,  January  3,  2010,   accessed  March  1,  2011,  http://www.statesman.com/news/texas/23-­‐year-­‐old-­‐techie-­‐puts-­‐manor-­‐on-­‐map-­‐ 160878.html.   lxxi    Nick  Judd,  “In  Texas,  a  Small  Town  Hopes  for  a  Gov  2.0  Makeover  Miracle,”  techPresident,  September  1,  2010,   accessed  March  1,  2011,  http://techpresident.com/blog-­‐entry/texas-­‐small-­‐town-­‐hopes-­‐gov-­‐20-­‐makeover-­‐miracle.   lxxii    Michael  Jeffers,  “Cheap  ‘QR’  Codes  Are  a  Budget-­‐Friendly  Project  for  Manor,  Texas,”  Government  Technology’s   Digital  Communities,  February  4,  2009,  accessed  March  1,  2011,   http://www.digitalcommunities.com/articles/Cheap-­‐QR-­‐Codes-­‐Are-­‐a-­‐Budget-­‐Friendly.html.  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data  

E.  WEB  TOOLS       Web  applications  can  assist  interested  parties  in  improving  the  interaction  between  citizens  and   government.    The  following  is  a  list  of  privately  developed  tools  that  can  be  employed  to  improve   transparency  efforts  or  used  as  examples  of  best  practices  of  resources  that  promote  open  government.     • Socrata  (http://www.socrata.com):  Socrata  helps  organizations  save  time  and  money  by   streamlining  the  data  publishing  process  and  automating  maintenance  and  updates.    Negating  the   need  for  additional  trained  IT  staff,  this  tool  allows  an  organization  to  publish  data  simply  and  easily   to  comply  with  transparency  mandates.    Socrata  also  manages  and  measures  open  data  projects  to   organize  the  sheer  volume  of  information  and  increase  constituents’  ability  to  consume  and  utilize   data.    Socrata  allows  users  to  interact  with  data  in  a  variety  of  ways  (visually,  through  API’s,  over  the   phone)  as  well  as  distribute  data  online.  Users  can  create  their  own  charts  and  share  them  with   others.    Data  sets  are  searchable,  sort-­‐able,  and  tag-­‐able.    The  filter  function  allows  users  to  sift   through  data  and  limit  observations  to  specific  information  needed  to  make  valuable  comparisons.     Data  sets  are  exportable  to  PDF  and  excel  formats.    Socrata  promotes  civic  engagement  by  allowing   users  to  subscribe  to  data  set  so  that  they  are  notified  of  changes.    Users  can  also  post  comments  on   specific  data  points.    This  could  allow  citizens  and  government  officials  to  comment  on  data  of   interest.     • Spigit  (http://www.spigit.com):  Spigit  utilizes  open  innovation  technology  that  enables  governments   to  engage  citizens,  elicit  feedback  and  discussion,  and  facilitate  collaboration.    Citizens  can   communicate  ideas  with  government  officials  through  the  use  of  an  idea  forum.    Ideas  can  be   posted  and  scored,  with  the  most  popular  ideas  featured  on  a  leader  board.    Crowdsourcing   technology  allows  governments  to  not  only  examine  an  idea,  but  also  answer  questions  and   determine  who  or  what  would  be  affected  by  the  idea.    Citizens  can  watch  their  idea  advance   through  levels  of  government  so  that  they  can  engage  in  the  governing  process.    This  platform   promotes  civic  engagement  with  limited  resources  using  idea  management  and  innovation   discovery.     • Firmstep  (http://www.firmstep.com/):  Firmstep  provides  applications  that  connect  citizens  with  the   information  and  government  services  they  need.  The  AchieveService  application  allows  citizens  to   identify  available  government  services,  check  their  eligibility,  and  receive  updates.  The   AchieveForms  application  allows  citizens  to  easily  apply  on  the  web  for  government  programs.     These  eforms  are  user-­‐friendly  and  cost  effective  and  reduce  administrative  burdens  for   government  and  red  tape  for  constituents.    Both  private  corporations  such  as  Siemens  and  small   local  government  like  Corby  Borough  (UK)  have  utilized  Firmstep’s  application  to  connect  with   constituents.     • Quick  Response  codes:  QR  codes  are  two-­‐dimensional  matrix  barcodes  that  can  be  read  by  camera   phones.  Once  these  square  bar  codes  are  scanned  by  an  Internet-­‐capable  phone,  they  can  connect   to  a  URL  on  the  phone’s  browser  with  more  information  about  the  object  or  site  that  is  attached  to   the  code.  These  URLS  can  be  compacted  online  and  stored  in  the  barcodes.  URL’s  can  be  compacted   on  a  number  of  free  online  websites,  including  http://www.tinyurl.com.  The  phones  that  scan  them   must  have  a  reader  application  downloaded.  A  list  of  readers  and  compatible  phones  can  be  found   at  www.qrme.co.uk/qr-­‐code-­‐resources/qr-­‐code-­‐readers.html.  Free  Mobile  QR-­‐code  applications  can  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   be  downloaded  at  the  following  websites:   • Google  ZXing(Android)  www.zxing.org/w   • 3GVision's  I-­‐Nigma  (Variety  of  Devices)  .  http://www.inigma.mobi   • Block5  (iPhone)  http://www.block5.com/iphone   • Listed  As  "QR  App"  In  The  iPhone  App  Store  

    For  more  information  on  QR  codes,  visit    http://www.qrme.co.uk  or  http://2dcode.co.uk/.       • Open  Plans  is  a  nonprofit  organization  that  provides  technology  tools  for  open     government.   They  provide  open  source  technologies  to  local  governments,  including  OpenGeo,  a  user-­‐ friendly  mapping  tool  for  community  members,  and  Civic  Commons,  which  allows  cities  and   states  to  adapt  and  share  code  effectively.  To  find  out  more,  visit  www.openplans.org.  

 

 

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F. LEGISLATIVE RESOURCES   A  key  element  of  our  democracy  is  the  formation  of  new  laws  through  a  representative  legislative   system.  For  this  system  to  work,  democratically  elected  representatives  must  act  on  the  interests  of  the   public  and  be  held  accountable  by  the  people  they  represent.  This  requires  more  than  just  a  vague   interest  on  the  part  of  the  public,  but  a  strong  motivation  to  follow  what  is  happening  and  voice   opinions.     Historically,  public  involvement  in  the  legislative  process  has  been  difficult  and  relied  heavily  on  media   coverage.  If  individuals  sought  more  information  they  had  to  personally  attend  hearings  and  committee   meetings.  The  availability  of  information  online  has  dramatically  increased  the  ease  and  convenience  of   accessing  legislative  updates.  Available  information,  though,  must  be  coupled  with  the  means  to  act  on   the  information  to  create  a  truly  engaged  polis.     During  the  research  portion  of  this  project  the  82nd  Legislative  Session  convened  in  Texas,  providing  us   with  the  opportunity  to  examine  the  existing  mechanisms  Texans  can  use  to  access  legislative   information  and  engage  with  legislators.  We  found  that  the  state  government  website,  Texas  Legislature   Online,  provides  a  large  amount  of  information  and  tools  to  track  legislation.    Users  can  search  by  bill   number  or  key  words  and  view  the  bill  text  in  several  formats,  as  well  as  the  text  of  amendments  and   fiscal  notes.  Users  can  also  see  where  the  bill  is  in  the  legislative  process,  set  up  custom  tracking,  and   find  the  contact  information  for  all  legislators.  What  is  lacking  on  the  state  site  is  the  ability  to  voice  an   opinion  in  the  public  sphere  and  initiate  a  dialogue.     Several  third  party  websites  try  to  fill  the  gap  by  supplying  a  forum  for  online  public  discourse  of  the   legislation  being  debated  at  the  Capitol.  These  sites  (listed  below)  often  connect  users  to  the  original   text  on  the  state  site,  but  on  their  own  site  have  links  to  social  media  networks  and  news  articles  and   allow  users  to  express  support  or  opposition  for  specific  bills.    These  features  are  vital  to  progress  from   simply  the  online  provision  of  bill  text  to  the  active  participation  of  the  public.     Below  we  have  complied  a  list  of  legislative  resources  individuals  can  use  to  follow—and  participate  in—   the  82nd  Legislative  Session  in  Texas.     Online  resources  and  descriptions     Texas  Legislature  Online   http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/Home.aspx     This  is  the  official  site  of  the  State  Legislature  and  allows  users  to  search  by  bill  number,  subject,  or  text   within  the  current  and  past  legislative  sessions.  Searching  for  a  bill  will  lead  to  a  page  that  shows  the   bill’s  history,  versions  of  the  text  in  PDF,  Word  and  HTML,  fiscal  notes,  amendments,  and  actions.  It  also   provides  a  diagram  of  bill  stages  and  where  the  particular  bill  if  interest  is  in  the  legislative  process.     The  My  TLO  feature  allows  users  to  create  a  custom  bill  list  to  track  legislation.  Alerts  can  be  sent   directly  to  the  user  when  changes  or  movement  occurs  on  bills  on  the  list,  or  if  bills  are  assigned  specific   subjects.     Bill  Hop  

 

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Transparency  in  Texas:  Beyond  Raw  Data   http://tx.billhop.com/     Bill  Hop  allows  users  to  search  for  bills  filed  in  the  82nd  Legislative  Session  and  displays  all  versions  of   the  text.  Users  can  register  and  create  a  username  to  leave  comments,  track  pages,  and  rank  pages.  The   home  page  displays  bills  that  have  been  ranked  favorable,  unfavorable,  conservative,  or  liberal  by  other   users.     Texas  Tribune   http://www.texastribune.org/session/82R/bills/     The  Tribune  provides  interactive  treemaps  that  show  bills  filed  in  the  82nd  Legislative  Session  by  subject   and  legislator,  distinguishing  between  the  House  and  Senate.  There  is  a  how-­‐to  video  to  help  users   navigate  the  maps.  Clicking  on  a  box  (either  subject  or  legislator)  provides  a  list  of  legislation  that  can  be   further  filtered.  Each  bill  then  links  to  a  page  that  provides  information  on  actions  taking  on  the  bill  and   quick  links  to  the  history  and  text  on  the  Texas  Legislature  Online  website.     Open  Government   http://tx.opengovernment.org/     Open  Government  displays  all  bills  filed  in  the  82nd  Session  and  can  be  filtered  by  chamber,  recent   actions,  date  introduced,  most  viewed  and  most  in  the  news.  It  is  also  possible  to  search  for  a  bill  by  key   word.  Each  bill  page  shows  its  status,  sponsors,  recent  actions  and  links  to  the  official  text.  It  also   provides  links  to  social  media  mentions  and  related  news  and  blog  coverage.  Users  can  make  comments   and  quickly  share  the  page  using  social  media  links  and  a  quick  link  to  email  your  representative  (input   zip  code).       BackMic.com   http://backmic.com/     BackMic  users  can  browse  bills  by  subject  or  author  or  view  the  BackMic  scorecard  that  shows  all  bills.   Users  who  create  and  account  can  vote  thumbs  up  or  down  on  legislation  and  make  comments.  Each   bill’s  page  displays  comments  from  the  bill  author,  BackMic  contributor,  and  the  mood  on  the  bill  based   on  votes.  Users  are  directed  to  Texas  Legislature  Online  to  read  text  and  track  action  on  the  bill.  There  is   a  how-­‐to  video  to  help  users.     MyGov365   http://www.mygov365.com/state/texas     MyGov365  houses  legislative  information  at  both  the  federal  and  state  level.  Users  can  browse  bills  and   view  text,  status,  sponsors  and  comments.  Users  who  register  on  the  site  are  able  to  track  specific  bills,   make  comments  and  vote  yea  or  nay.  

 

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  H.  GLOSSARY      

Civic  Engagement  -­‐  Active  citizenship  in  which  people  are  easily  able  to  have  direct  input  into   governmental  processes  and  policy  formation  to  identify  and  address  issues  of  public  concern.     Crowdsourcing  -­‐The  act  of  outsourcing  tasks  on  the  web  to  an  undefined,  large  group  of  people  or   community  to  harness  the  power  of  collective  knowledge  to  achieve  the  given  task.     Data  Production  -­‐  The  process  of  gathering,  compiling,  and  presenting  public  information.     Digital  Divide  -­‐  The  knowledge  and  access  gap  between  people  to  digital  and  information  technology.    It   can  refer  to  both  a  disparity  in  resources  and  skills  needed  to  effectively  utilize  web  based  technologies   and  the  physical  access  to  technology.     Drop-­‐Down  Menu  -­‐  User  interface  widget  that  enables  users  to  choose  an  item  from  a  list  when   activated.     Exportable  -­‐  When  data  on  a  web  page  is  able  to  be  sent  to  a  program  that  allows  the  user  to  view  the   data  in  an  organized  way  and  to  edit  for  their  own  purposes     Intermediary  Organizations  -­‐  This  refers  to  non-­‐governmental  organizations  that  actively  engage   citizens  including  advocacy  organizations,  watchdog  groups,  the  media,  or  interest  groups.     Machine  Readable  -­‐  A  data  format  that  can  be  fed  into  and  read  by  any  computer  or  mobile  device.     Raw  Data  -­‐  Source  data  that  has  not  been  processed  or  manipulated.     Reporting  Software  -­‐  Generates  human-­‐readable  reports  from  data  sources.     Social  Media  -­‐  Web-­‐based  media  used  for  social  interaction.     Transparency  -­‐  The  ease  of  accessibility,  exportability,  and  usability  of  accurate  online  data.     Widget  -­‐  An  application  that  can  be  installed  in  a  web  page  by  a  user.      

 

 

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