Commentary: Open Data Day Time to Celebrate Transparency, Promote Education
Officials from the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal) who participated in the 10th annual International Open Data Day, also including its Director Miriam Barcellona Ingenito, used the opportunity to educate participants on state spending, seek use cases for state spending data, and to get feedback on their website and its information.
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Open Data Day is “an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society” according to its website. Internationally, this year’s event included tracks on environmental data, tracking public money flows, open mapping, and data for equal development.
I was honored to attend Code for Sacramento’s event as a representative of the Department of the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal), joined by our director, Miriam Barcellona Ingenito, and other FI$Cal staff. FI$Cal has been working hard to increase California’s financial transparency by creating Open FI$Cal, the state’s transparency portal, with the help of our vendor OpenGov. We wanted to use the opportunity presented by Open Data Day to educate the public about state spending, get feedback on our site and the data it contains, and ask the community to help us find and demonstrate use cases for the state’s spending data.
At the event, I shared with attendees how the general public can now access most of the state’s individual expenditure transactions on Open FI$Cal, to answer questions like how much the state spends on its infectious diseases program, how much it pays to high-speed rail contractors, or how much it spends on photocopy paper.
We discussed how citizens have a right to know what their government is spending their tax dollars on and how government has a responsibility to make its data available to the public when that data is not confidential or sensitive. With the transition of most state department accounting to the FI$Cal system, California is now able to share detailed expenditure information with the public, allowing them to exercise their rights to oversee state spending more effectively.
I also demonstrated how users can download all the data on Open FI$Cal (over 40 million individual transactions and growing fast), learn more about accounting terms in the site’s new Learning Center, and use the demo version of an application program interface (API) to pull our data into other apps.
Other presenters included staff from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration showing off a new dashboard of state tax flows, built with Power BI and nearing public release. In addition, Code for Sacramento members demonstrated their efforts to build a dashboard tracking homelessness in the Sacramento area using recently released data from the local Homelessness Management Information System. The efforts of both state staff and the public to extract useful information from these data sets and make it accessible to all were quite impressive.
Following the presentations, attendees broke into groups and spent the rest of the day learning about and working with the available data sets. The teams working with data from Open FI$Cal tackled projects such as tracking the vendors that had received the most from the state so far in the current fiscal year. They also worked on drafting instructions for using the demo API, which will help future users extract information more efficiently.
The enthusiasm among the participants for learning about how government works and spends its money was heartening. One participant, who drove from Walnut Creek and who has been to a number of open data events, indicated that this event was the most informative he had attended and encouraged us to share the content more widely. Other attendees said they would continue working on the projects they started on Open Data Day. Members of the public are welcome to check out the Code for Sacramento Github repositories, read through the open issues, and contribute their own ideas or skills to the ongoing projects.
I look forward to continuing to partner with the civic tech community, both in Sacramento and statewide, as we work to increase the state’s transparency and promote citizen engagement and innovation.