Lewiston, Idaho Saves Time with Open Data Solution

POPULATION: 32,000 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $34.5 Million

Founded during the gold rush that swept through America during the mid-nineteenth century, the City of Lewiston has been one of Idaho’s powerhouse cities ever since. Just two years after its creation, it became Idaho’s first capital. Now, it is northern Idaho’s second-largest city. Citizens take pride in a thriving manufacturing industry and a nascent service sector, not to mention beautiful scenery such as Hells Canyon.

Lewiston’s citizens are served by a government that places a premium on high-quality, innovative service. The City has multiple public development goals and a clear mandate to foster continued economic growth. It sought to elevate its efforts to engage the public by connecting citizens to their government’s financial information and performance results.


Lewiston Seeks an Open Data Upgrade


Carol Maurer, Lewiston’s Public Information Officer, emphasized the City’s “focus on innovation” when it comes to citizen engagement. Ensuring robust transparency was essential to Lewiston’s leadership, particularly in the pursuit of a series of bold initiatives. As the City embarked on preparing a two-year budget and a ten-year private capital plan, Maurer sought to enable citizens to “look into the City and focus on what the administration is working on,” she explained.

Dan Marsh, Lewiston’s Administrative Services Director, recognized how robust open data supports all government efforts. Open data builds trust in the administration and elected officials, enhances informed decision-making, and fosters citizen engagement by showing residents how the City spends public money.

One of Maurer’s goals was, “to make it easier for [residents] to learn what we’re doing.” But until the City adopted the OpenGov Smart Government Cloud™, citizens could not see where Lewiston was allocating money, and they could not drill down into department-level detail. Moreover, data files were often only available in printed form, shutting off residents who increasingly expected their government to present data online.

OpenGov visualizes a government’s chart of accounts, allowing users to drill down into financial information by type, fund, or department.


OpenGov Provided a Simple and Sophisticated Solution


Lewiston’s government decided to take a step forward for its citizens – and all of Idaho’s residents – and search for a transparency solution that could properly illustrate the link between the City’s budget and resident-level impact. Lewiston chose OpenGov as the most compelling open data solution. “I saw demonstrations at ICMA’s annual conferences, and was pretty impressed by [OpenGov’s] features,” Maurer said.

Accounting Manager Bob Clark appreciated OpenGov’s ability to represent complex data through an intuitive interface and easy-to-understand graphs and charts. “We like the bean-counter number tables, but you can really see visual representations too,” he said. OpenGov’s clear visualizations of complex financial information enable citizens to explore and analyze government data. With just one click, for example, residents can see overall General Fund spending and specific employee salaries, with historical data and trends also at their fingertips.

OpenGov integrated smoothly with the City’s existing IT systems and mapped to its chart of accounts, maintaining the data’s integrity and relevance to the team. Finance Assistant Carol Valliant said Lewiston’s IT Director was “pleased” by OpenGov’s simplicity.

Lewiston sought to deliver a flexible, easy-to-use, innovative open data solution that helps streamline reporting internally and externally.


Citizens Could Finally See the “Big Picture”


“I’m excited not only to be first in the state to have OpenGov, but first altogether to make big changes,” Marsh said. By making the City’s in-depth financial data available on OpenGov, citizens could easily view and understand government operations like never before. Maurer explained that, after “stories surfaced in the news and on social media,” residents began to flock to Lewiston’s new transparency site.

Citizens gained access to “big picture” numbers easily and could search for any data of particular interest. “It doesn’t matter if you care about healthcare or police – people can come to the site and find what they’re after,” said Financial Services Advisory Amy Paris. Because the OpenGov’s software maps to Lewiston’s chart of accounts, citizens can see spending by type, fund, or department. For example, overtime expenses are displayed across funds and departments, rather than users having access to only one particular fund.

The ability to drill down into specific projects piqued the interest of many citizens who “weren’t attending council meetings anymore,” Maurer said. “Some people read the hard copy citizen’s guide to the budget, but this is another option for everyone else. If we don’t make it easy for them, they won’t do their homework.”


Departments Can Get Comprehensive Answers Quickly


OpenGov helped Lewiston increase transparency as well as operational efficiency. Previous accounting solutions were “cumbersome,” Marsh explained. Certain analytical tasks – comparing spend across departments over multiple years, for example – required analysts to spend hours compiling and formatting complex reports.

Now, department heads and their teams can look up answers themselves with ease using the OpenGov platform. “Public Works uses the tools in great detail, and are phenomenal in their reporting and council updates as a result,” Paris said. “OpenGov is a good tool for departments that aren’t as savvy with complex software without putting in a lot of time,” Marsh added. Interactive, intuitive reports provide departments with real-time access to the answers they need.


Lewiston is Ready to Build More Trust


Lewiston has already shown Idaho the benefits of open data and management reporting. Citizens are more engaged in the government process, departments are working more efficiently, and public trust in the City’s administration has grown. The team does not intend to stop here. Maurer has plans to launch “a series of short videos along with social media engagement” to ensure that every citizen knows about the data that is available. “With the technology we’re moving forward with, it’s an exciting time,” Marsh said.

Results

  • Saved time.

    Using OpenGov, Lewiston’s staff saved hours when creating reports, by reducing the time required for compiling and formatting data.

  • On-demand access to information.

    Department heads and staff have instant access to accurate data through OpenGov, making their work more efficient and effective.

  • Greater transparency.

    The team increased public access to robust open data increased citizen participation and trust in government.

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