Opening Oakland’s Budget

Today a group of Oakland’s civic hackers (the good guys) launched a powerful and simple new tool into the newly announced city budget debate: is an app that allows you to easily dive into different allocations and departments to see just where all the money goes! It’s rad, seriously, it’s something every single resident will be able to learn something new from and almost certainly will raise a few eyebrows about how our city is doing.  The team who built this, primarily Shawn McDougal and Adam Stiles did a fantastic job of also building in a conversation feature that allows users to ask questions and to discuss every single line item of the city budget- the new one proposed today and the past one. And not a single ugly PDF in sight, just clear web graphics you can understand!

It’s a great demonstration of how open data (easily accessible public records), civic hacking (building solutions to city issues fast & cheap) and engaged citizens all fit together to create something awesome.  The team and some of OpenOakland’s other members worked hard to complete the app and launch it in time for the Mayor’s press conference today that would announce the new budget proposal for 2013-2015.  We had hoped the city would publish the new budget data earlier this week but no luck.  Then around noon today the city did some great work to actually get the new budget numbers published on their data site, creating a frenzy of coding and data processing as this team actually built the new visualization tools for the proposed budget and had it live and tested in about six hours. 6. I’m impressed. I hope you are too.  So in a single day the new budget is announced and we already have a great platform to explore the budget nuances, to discuss the implications and to ask informed questions and to share knowledge for those who really know this finance game.

I’m particularly excited about this launch as the Open Budget Oakland team are the first group/app to be accepted into OpenOakland as a formally supported project.  We’ve been deliberating for a few months on how city staff, citizens and developers can come up with a new idea or a new app and have it become part of our official set of projects, and now we have that process nailed down (to be published this weekend!).

In small part this successful launch illustrates a major reason behind the creation of OpenOakland: sustaining civic hacking. Not just as a single project like this, but as a community.  This app was first conceived by Shawn McDougal at the 2012 Code for Oakland community hackathon and was brought to prototype stage on the day despite massive data issues. They even won the grand prize.  Both I and Eddie Tejeda realized there needed to be a place and a community to sustain and to support great projects like this, hence our weekly free hack night in City Hall.  The Hack the Budget team (round 1 name) enlisted great support from the city Budget Advisory Committee to help make the app usable and accurate and it seemed from the sidelines that a stable place to meet and work on civic projects was important for this group.

When the app was almost ready to launch and we had our project submission process finished we were thrilled to have this team apply to be a supported part of OpenOakland- so we now have another great tool in our stack of open government apps in Oakland! is now a tool were going to support as a Code for America Brigade- and we’re hoping you have ideas also about how this great tool can be even better! share them with us on the site after you’ve explored it…

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