Encinitas, California Improves Public Trust and Efficiency with OpenGov

POPULATION: 61,588  |  AGENCY TYPE: City  |  ANNUAL BUDGET: $103 million

Encinitas Contends with Low Trust in Government

It’s a story local government leaders throughout the nation know well: the public’s trust in institutions is at a low, citizens are disengaged, and individuals with narrow agendas frequently dominate public discourse.

In Encinitas, California, a small coastal city located 25 miles north of San Diego, that disconnect between residents and government leaders had become apparent. Fueled by a strong desire to strengthen the community’s trust in the local government, Encinitas’ leadership pursued a robust citizen engagement initiative. According to the city’s comprehensive communications plan, the initiative’s goal was to “improve communications and collaboration among city council, staff, public, and community organizations” and to “harness technology to promote government transparency and increase citizen-centered education and dialogue.”


City Leaders Prioritize Financial Transparency


Financial transparency was central to the Encinitas’ efforts to build citizen trust and engagement. Although the city was accustomed to posting PDF copies of its adopted budget on its website, the format trapped the data it contained, making it static and unengaging. Consequently, the finance office regularly received information requests about its financials.

Encinitas’ Finance Director Tim Nash spoke to the public’s desire for easy access to specific information. “You can be very transparent, but if the perception is that you are not, then it doesn’t reflect well on the city. If citizens can’t find the specific information they want, they feel you aren’t being transparent,” he said.

Encinitas pursues robust communications initiative to engage citizens.

Nash, Communications Officer Marlena Medford, and Chief Information Officer Lynn Tufts set out to empower citizens to find, understand, and access the financial and budget information they sought at any time. They discovered OpenGov and decided it was the right tool to help advance the city’s transparency and engagement goals.


Providing Access and Restoring Trust


In June 2014, after a smooth implementation, Encinitas and its associated San Dieguito Water District, became the first two public agencies in San Diego County to launch financial transparency platforms. Nash immediately began using its OpenGov platform to answer questions from citizens and council members about the budget. The availability of interactive, easy-to-understand data has gone a long way in building trust among the community. “OpenGov has helped create a level playing field with the data; it provides the same numbers to everyone. Consistency is huge because trust stems from that. If you have different sets of numbers, then that’s a killer,” Nash said.

Nash and Medford’s collaboration and leadership established Encinitas as a regional leader in transparency and civic engagement. Nash, for example, has observed a reduction in requests for information about finances. “We see fewer people at council meetings bring up problems regarding finances because they can now easily look up the information. I have not heard any complaints from citizens not being able to find information,” he added.

At council meetings, Nash and other city staff have the ability to use OpenGov to answer financial questions on demand in real time: “It’s pretty powerful to have access to the information. In just two to three clicks, you’re there.”

City presents budget data in compelling, interactive OpenGov Smart Government Platform and drives citizen engagement.

OpenGov complements a suite of solutions, including social media and online citizen polling tools, that Medford and her team have employed to build citizen engagement and trust. “Direct links to all of these tools have been placed front-and-center on our main homepage so the public can easily access them. Together, these resources improve communication, trust, and engagement within the community,” Medford added.


More Than a Transparency Tool

Although Encinitas adopted OpenGov based on its need to engage external stakeholders, the platform has also brought significant value to internal staff. Encinitas implemented a new, sophisticated, and complex enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in 2012. While the city uses the ERP system to store financial information, OpenGov dynamically visualizes it, and enables Encinitas staff to analyze it more effectively.

“It’s pretty powerful to have access to financial information with OpenGov. In just two to three clicks, you’re there.”
Tim Nash, Financial Systems AnalystFinance Director, Encinitas, CA

Furthermore, loading the ERP’s financial data into OpenGov provided Nash with the opportunity to reevaluate the account structure created during the ERP transition: “We didn’t want to map our financial data on OpenGov to our old Chart of Accounts, so we collaborated with the OpenGov Customer Success and Government Finance Solutions teams to restructure the Chart of Accounts so that it was easier to present and navigate.”

“Internally, OpenGov has become a powerful tool for finance staff to get data to analyze for planning, forecasting, and reporting,” Nash said. Although the city’s new ERP system includes reporting capabilities, “OpenGov provides a quicker way to get what you want because it’s easier for managers to drill down and get much more detail than exists in the ERP system. With OpenGov, I can find anything I need very quickly.”

Nash sees immense added value in using OpenGov internally. “Externally, people will use it at a certain level, but internally we can use OpenGov to slice and dice data and do real-time presentations using graphics to provide information and to discuss any financial question,” he said.

On demand access to financial data builds trust and reduces citizen information requests.

Results

  • Stronger Trust and Engagement. 

    “Our OpenGov platform improves communication, trust, and engagement within the community.” - Tim Nash, Finance Director

  • Fewer Information Requests. 

    The city now receives fewer inbound information requests about city finances because the data is available and accessible on demand.

  • Instant Access to Financial Data. 

    City staff uses OpenGov to answer financial questions in real time during council meetings.

  • More Effective Internal Management Reporting. 

    Making data easier to present and navigate, OpenGov has become the city finance team’s go-to solution for analysis, forecasting, and reporting.

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