Local government budgets reflect a community’s values and priorities, or at least they are supposed to. Unfortunately, the barriers to citizens’ ability to understand the issues at stake and to participate in the public conversation can be daunting. Budgets are complex and traditional budget processes rarely work well to allow ordinary people to contribute in meaningful ways.
Last year Code for Asheville, a volunteer group dedicated to improving how local government and community organizations use technology, decided to create avlbudget.org to try to make the municipal budget more accessible and useful for citizens. With promotional help from the City and the Asheville Citizen-Times, the site attracted 1,200 people in May and June, and 2,400 have used the site since July 1, 2014.
We think that’s pretty cool.
But it’s also not enough. While easily an improvement over the dense text and tables of the City’s PDF, the site only scratches the surface of what could be done to make the information more accessible to citizens and more useful to the government, media and civic organizations that help convene the public conversation. Just as importantly, the effort required to set it up and prepare the data puts it out of reach of communities with more limited resources … that is, the majority of them. In Asheville, for example, barely 20% of the 424,000+ population of the metro area live in the city itself. Most live in much smaller municipalities or in unincorporated parts of the county.
So this year, DemocracyApps is leading the effort to build on last year’s success with a platform that starts to address these limitations. Our work is guided by 4 key goals, which I’ll discuss in more detail over the next few posts.
- Empower community partners, including local media, civic organizations and advocacy groups
- Make the platform accessible to smaller communities with fewer resources and expand beyond Asheville
- Create easy ways for people to share discoveries and information from the site with others
- Make the platform extensible, allowing contributors to create new capabilities through plugins
Over the next few weeks I’ll dive into each of these in more detail, as well as share news on our progress.
This post is part of a series on the new budget platform:
- Introducing the Budget App 2.0
- Budget 2.0 – Building for Partnership
- Beyond Asheville: Making the platform accessible to smaller communities (Coming soon)
- Promoting Conversation: Building easy ways for people to share discoveries and information(Coming soon)
- Foundation for Creativity: Creating a customizable, pluggable platform (Coming soon)