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Situated along the Mississippi River, Muscatine is an industrial town with an entrepreneurial spirit. Companies such as HON Furniture, Kent Corporation, Carver Pump, Raymond Industries, and Stanley Consultants, Muscatine is friendly for entrepreneurs who, historically, have thrived and grown their enterprises along the bustling riverfront. Muscatine is situated just south of the Quad Cities and about a half hour from the University of Iowa-Iowa City.
The City Administrator and Finance and Communications teams sought a technology solution that would increase financial transparency through visually-appealing dashboards while also providing a mechanism to analyze metrics for more effective internal management.
With OpenGov’s transparency solution, Muscatine was able to inform and empower citizens to find their own answers, strengthen public trust, and improve performance tracking and reporting.
New users visit and spend time on Muscatine’s transparency portal, digging into the interactive data finding their own answers with confidence in the data’s accuracy.
When citizens have access to the very same information that city staff and Council receives, they do not fear anything is being hidden, and they are empowered to ask more informed questions.
OpenGov’s easy reporting functionalities and visualizations streamline departmental annual reporting. Access to up-to-date budget and operational information allows for easier adjustments and promotes internal accountability.
Muscatine transitioned from a paper budget book to a digital PDF version, then to a searchable online PDF, and finally adopted OpenGov to publish its budget data in an interactive format. “Now we have all of our financial information online – not only the budget and year-to-date expenditures, but an open checkbook and many other features so everyone can see what’s going on,” Mandsager said.
Everyone included the Council members, who benefitted from real-time demonstrations of current and historical spending. When one Council member, for example, questioned what appeared to be a substantial expense, in real-time, the finance staff was able to show that the expenditure was $80,000, not $1 Million. “You could show the actual expense and also how much we had spent on that line historically, so it helped to tell our story,” Lueck said.
Local newspaper reporters also used the platform to research an article on legal expenses and gather accurate information without active assistance from Muscatine’s staff. “Whatever the topic may be, it lets people dig into the information themselves, and they don’t have to rely on us,” Lueck said. “It certainly saves us time, but equally important, that information comes directly from our financial software into the system, so everyone has access to that raw data and can draw their own conclusions or ask better-informed questions.”
Department heads track their expenses more effectively over time using the OpenGov platform.
In searching for a transparency solution, the City Administrator and department heads hoped for a tool that would help them better tell their stories. Department heads are successfully using OpenGov to track their departments’ operations. “The tool itself is extremely easy to use,” Mandsager noted. “If you’re a numbers person, you can dig down as far as you want. If you’re a visual person, you’ve got four or five different graphic opportunities and can immediately turn numbers into a visual that gives you the picture of what’s going on.”
Mandsager and Jenison anticipate time savings and increased efficiency when producing annual accomplishment reports due each fall. “OpenGov will help them tell their story with better graphics, and that information can also be shared with the public,” Mandsager said. “The biggest benefit is once the information is input, all they need to do is add their narrative and it will be ready to go,” Jenison added. “Ten years’ worth of data and metrics will already be there, and the visuals and graphics will help them tell their story without manually wading through a decade of annual reports.”
The ability for department heads to view their operating costs on a monthly basis against the budget allows them to make necessary adjustments in a more proactive way. The same holds true for performance measures. “When departments can look at their own metrics, they can see areas that need improvement as well as the areas that should be recognized for success,” Jenison said. “It will give them good accountability and also enable them to promote their good work more.”
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