Virginia Beach is fueling its future with open data. Here’s how

VIRGINIA BEACH — After the Envision Virginia Beach 2040 report was released in 2012, city officials have been working toward keeping residents informed of what they’re doing.

One of those ways was by creating the city’s Open Performance Site.

The site is powered by Socrata, an open data company.

Socrata developed a case study on the open data portal the city opened in 2015, highlighting how the city’s efforts have made future projects more attainable by data use.

The Open Performance Site is a portal that was created to provide quick and easy ways to access the performance of the community and the city, officials said.

The metrics are organized by the 10 City Council goals, and key performance indicators are used to track their progress in meeting those goals, according to the city.

One of the highlights from the case study was the financial transparency component that Virginia Beach was able to offer.

According to the case study, the city used to post top-level budget PDFs online, but they weren’t able to provide detailed information for every line item in the city’s budget.

To remedy this, they created Open Budget. 

Open Budget is a way for residents, council members and the media to be able to access transaction-level financial information.

Before the launch in 2015, only 11 copies of the line-item budget were printed each year and they were reserved for accountants in the finance department, according to the case study.

Now with Open Budget, the massive amounts of data that go into creating the budget can be made understandable.

Virginia Beach employees and residents can explore the line-item budget details that they care about, according to Socrata.

Also, by putting the project together, it allowed for the city to gain a better understanding of the complexities of its operating budget and the details behind big program elements, according to Socrata’s case study.

This effort was met with positive responses from the public, the media and City Council members.

By sharing the data, the city is hoping it would reduce FOIA requests and the city is looking forward to the operational benefits that will come from it.

Norfolk’s data portal

Virginia Beach isn’t the only city to have an open data portal.

Norfolk also has a data portal and while the city doesn’t have the Open Budget site, it has an interactive budget balancing tool that residents can use to explore and learn more about the city’s annual budget process.

Norfolk’s budget tool is called Balancing Act and it allows for residents to participate in a mock city budget, letting them make the decisions on their priorities for the city’s budget.

That was created because of the $13.3 million budget gap the city is facing for FY 2020.

Norfolk’s residents can also access the Taxpayer Receipt program which allows them to see how the city spends tax dollars by providing an unofficial, itemized receipt.

Virginia Beach also has this option.

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