Minneapolis Delivers on Strategic Goals with Financial Transparency

POPULATION: 400,070 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $1.45 Billion

Shortly after its local election, newly-elected Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges worked closely with council members to develop the strategic goals and values that would guide their four-year term. Among its top priorities were transparency, accountability, and ethics, along with the creation of a responsible tax policy and sound financial management to provide both short-term stability and long-term fiscal health to the city.

Although Minneapolis had a long history of strong public engagement, one key goal stood out among the rest — building public trust by ensuring that residents had access to services and information about how the city government actually works. Therefore, it was natural for city officials to seek new ways to make financial information available to the public in a more user-friendly format than it had in the past.


Transparency Movement Builds Momentum in the Twin Cities


“The transparency movement for local government finances has been picking up steam in recent years,” Jeff Schneider, the city’s Enterprise Finance Specialist explained. Schneider played a key role in bringing the OpenGov Smart Government Platform to Minneapolis. “The combination of a move toward openness in professional best practices and an increased policy emphasis by our Mayor and City Council resulted in several new initiatives. The city’s new financial transparency platform, powered by OpenGov, is a prime example.”

As with many government initiatives, building support for the platform took time. By design, government authority in Minneapolis is decentralized, meaning the Mayor cannot make unilateral decisions without the city council’s support. Therefore, many people were ultimately involved in launching the site – from a small group of finance staff all the way up to the city’s CFO, City Coordinator, and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff. After a thorough vetting process, Schneider and his team presented the plan to the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee, which approved it “unanimously and enthusiastically.”

OpenGov visualizes Minneapolis’s expenditures by department over time, giving citizens the information they need.


Strategic Roll-Out Positions Initiative for Success


After securing the council’s approval, Schneider, who has served the city for more than thirty years, focused on creating and launching the public platform. The process was a collaborative team effort. He received support from OpenGov’s Customer Success and Government Finance Solutions teams, and he garnered departmental input to shape the platform’s content. “I worked with a core finance group to structure the content, formatted it with assistance from OpenGov’s technical staff, and received guidance from our Deputy CFO and Controller,” Schneider said. “Once we launched a draft site, I organized meetings among various groups of staff, both within finance and within operating departments to review and refine the display. Our communications department also helped us to formulate internal and external communications roll-out plans.”

Understand changes in important project budgets with clear and interactive visualizations.


City Leaders Deliver User-Friendly Smart Government Platform


Their strategic planning worked. When the platform launched, a swell of media coverage drove Minneapolis residents to the site. “Minneapolis government is now more transparent, thanks to a new online tool,” the Minnesota Daily proclaimed.

According to City Council Member John Quincy, residents who previously wanted city financial information would have had to piece it together from the city’s website and ad hoc communications with city officials, even possibly needing to file a Minnesota Data Practices Act request. Quincy was thrilled with how the new website made the city’s financial information much more accessible.

“OpenGov is more accessible to the general public. We wanted to provide information, not just data.”
Jeff Schneider, Enterprise Finance Specialist, Minneapolis, MN

Schneider shared, “We went with the OpenGov platform because we believed it was more accessible to the general public. We wanted to provide information, not just data.” As the city expands — just last year, Minneapolis experienced $2 billion in new construction, along with rises in population and employment — the site will help officials and the public track the financial implications of such rapid growth.


Smart Government For the Long-Term


For Schneider, though, transparency is not just about going through the motions of his workday. “It is a privilege and honor to work in local government, and in return, I share the longstanding Minneapolis City value of working in an open and transparent manner,” he said. “Our residents who pay the bills have a right to understand where their money is going.”

Indeed, as the public becomes increasingly familiar with the city’s OpenGov platform, city officials believe it will become an increasingly useful long-term resource. Quincy expects the platform to garner increased attention during future budget seasons, and the platform has improved communication beyond the city’s traditional 500-page budget document produced as a bulky PDF each year.

Beyond improving transparency, OpenGov will also strengthen the city’s internal operations. “It is too early to tell precisely how this site will contribute to internal efficiency,” Schneider noted. “Presumably, though, some of the external site visitors are getting information that they previously would have needed to retrieve via phone calls or emails to city staff.”

By proactively making information available, the city is reducing staff time required to fulfill often duplicative or time-intensive records requests. That is time staff can use to focus on fulfilling Minneapolis’s strategic goal of creating a city that works — a city government that runs well and connects to the community it serves. “Publishing a financial transparency website is becoming an expectation of the public and the media,” Schneider said. “They may not use it every day, but they want it to be available when needed.”

Results

  • Addressed Strategic Goals.

    Using OpenGov helped Minneapolis’s leadership address its strategic goals around strengthening communication and financial planning.

  • Information on Demand.

    The city desired to increase the public’s access to information on demand.

  • Reduced Ad Hoc Records Requests.

    By proactively making financial information available, Minneapolis’s government reduced the resource burden of fulfilling time-consuming individual financial records requests.

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