Ridgefield, Washington Streamlines Internal Processes and Facilitates Strategic Decision-Making with OpenGov
POPULATION: 7,235 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $25 Million
The City uses OpenGov’s Saved Views capture to streamline its internal reporting and make data available on demand in the cloud.
City’s Strategic Planning and Decision-making Enhanced
Before adopting OpenGov, the City did all reporting on paper. Quarterly financial reports were distributed to Council as hard-copy PDF documents, as were monthly financial reports to the management. The budgeting process was undertaken entirely in Excel, with multiple tabs representing the different funds.
This paper-based process hampered the City’s future planning and effective decision-making, as department heads and senior management never benefitted from up-to-date financials. “We’ve always given historical information to staff after we close the month, so they’re looking at information from the past when they’re trying to make decisions for the future,” Johnson said. Access to real-time information empowered department heads to make better-informed decisions. Now, when someone wants to start a new project or propose something to Council, he or she has the department’s information available immediately to support the request.
“Our police chief, for example, asked for some information on the budget,” Johnson noted. “His most recent report was on paper and over a month old. He needed to know if he had the funding to take on an additional project. With OpenGov, he could look at his financials in real time to see exactly what he had available.” The Council, receiving such requests, is also more effective with real-time information. “OpenGov helps the Council make really good strategic decisions, using up-to-date data,” Johnson said.
Such internal efficiency enables Ridgefield to use OpenGov not just as a transparency platform, but also as a management tool. While Ridgefield initially uploaded financial data, its staff is beginning a second phase in which transactional information such as water usage will also be part of the platform. “We have a customer management system where citizens can use a phone app tell us about potholes or street lights that are out,” Johnson explained. “We want to create a report that shows what types of concerns citizens have and how much time it takes for those issues to be resolved. We’ll give that information back to the public so they can measure our success, and we’ll also use that information internally, so management can see where they may need to move resources.”
Reporting Process Streamlined
The City of Ridgefield enjoys a collaborative process in which Council sets high-level goals and staff subsequently responds with strategic options for meeting those goals. This collaboration is strengthened by giving Council as much information as possible along the way, including cost analyses and service resource time projections, which helps members make informed choices.
Before implementing OpenGov, the communication chain consisted of static reports that would take up to a half a day to prepare. “Since we’ve gone to OpenGov, it can take minutes,” Johnson noted. In addition to these time savings, department heads now have access to an interactive platform that can save views relevant to their specific interests, like personnel or supply costs. “Staff can go in at any time, do a search by keyword, and automatically get right to the information they need,” Johnson explained. Not only can staff view the data, but they can also manipulate it to visualize scenarios, make changes, or engage in dialog with others relative to the information there.
The on-demand access to real-time information creates an efficient internal workflow with a self-service nature. Senior managers are empowered to make smarter decisions, staff can easily see how data supports the results of their work, and Council can see real progress toward its higher-level goals. The interactive reports enable Johnson to drill down into current information during Council meetings as well. “We can use live data for our quarterly reports during council meetings and get that information out to the public in the same way,” Johnson said. Indeed, the Council has been not just receptive but excited about improving the presentation of data and prospect of increasing capabilities in the future.
Ridgefield Increases Citizen Engagement and Accountability
“OpenGov is a tool that helps us be more accountable,” Johnson said. “It’s not a static report that’s just available on our website. It’s something that citizens can use to find what they want.” With information presented in a way that is easy to understand, Johnson says citizens are better able to hold the City accountable and feel good about the City’s fiscal responsibility. “With OpenGov,” he said, “it’s easier for citizens to understand how and what we’re spending our money on. That makes them feel like we’re making the right decisions, or they can better understand the decisions we’re making.”
Citizens are also newly able to answer common questions immediately and on their own. As is the case in most municipalities, many of the public information requests that come into Ridgefield are relatively simple but take significant time to fulfill. With OpenGov, the City’s staff saves time responding to such requests, and members of the public have easy access to answers at their convenience.