Up to date Indiana Transparency Portal Emphasizes Ease of Use and Public Good
Indiana is a leader in providing information from contracts to agency budgets to the general public. However, when the first phases of the transparency website redesign began late last year, issues of data quality and ease of use were of critical importance.
To create “a more functional and robust data analytics tool” that would give citizens an insider’s perspective on government spending, the Indiana Transparency Portal (ITP) project would need to “improve the data quality of government financial information,” along with new analytics tools officials said in their charter.
Three government agencies worked together on the project – the Auditor’s Office, the Office of Technology, and the Management Performance Hub (MPH), the government analytics solution provider. The state budgetary agency also worked together to provide advice and ensure that the portal contained the most accurate data. At the top of their list of priorities was a redesign that would be as important to government agencies as it was to the public. Work on this first phase began in November and went into operation at the end of June.
“I believe government agencies and lawmakers will probably use this data and this site more than anyone because they need it to do their work. If it’s done well, ”said state auditor Tera Klutz, who made the initiative a priority because of Indiana’s emphasis on transparency.
The original ITP, which went live in 2010, was still well viewed by “government guards”, MPH said in the charter, but had to be “updated” after nearly a decade.
The state has the opportunity to “get really capital-intensive,” Klutz said in an interview with Government Technology, but instead opted to use software it already had and a team that was already in place under the governor.
She described the old website as “labor intensive to update” and in need of automation, although this is not a lost cause and could be improved – a view shared by State Director of Engagement and Analytics Alexandra Ibragic.
“The old website, that was a big, long list and you could sort of filter. There was just no way I could look for someone by name, ”said Ibragic.
Officials heard all of this and more during two focus group meetings in November with the state government and external partners. They refined this information into user stories that conveyed exactly what the stakeholders were hoping for from the new website.
For example, the Treasury chief of the Treasury wanted to compare revenue projections with accumulated revenue in order to “anticipate and plan potential budget changes” and compare key categories of spending across government agencies.
A member of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government wanted access to the metadata behind ITP-based data to gain a deeper understanding of that content. And a member of the Hoosier State Press Association wanted to “collect big data” to compare Indiana with other states on key performance metrics.
The resulting new tools and dashboards were created using a solution matrix that contained Tableau for visualization; SAP for data acquisition; and open source solutions like Python for manipulation. The three collaborating agencies shared the total project cost of just over $ 597,000, which was a huge win, according to Darshan Shah, the state’s chief data officer.
“When it comes to being efficient with taxpayers’ money, we believe the solution that has been made here has been done – literally for pennies per dollar compared to what other states have spent. So from that point of view we were able to deliver a solution with very similar benefits but at a much lower cost, ”said Shah, who is also MPH director.
The response so far, said Ibragic, has been good, as the authorities have already turned to MPH to access data in different ways; Search contracts more easily; and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office has an interest in creating a dashboard for reviewing and tracking federal grants. The state, Shah said, is creating data analytics solutions in the future and would be “more than happy” to share what it has learned and possibly even some of its code.
“Based on the fact that a lot of it really happens in the interests of the common good. We want to be able to share and benefit from other communities wherever we can, ”he said.
Theo Douglas is Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Techwire.net and prior to that at Government Technology. His reporting experience includes reporting on local, district and state governments, business and breaking news. He holds a BA in Newspaper Journalism and a Masters in History, both from California State University at Long Beach.
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