PSA for Local Governments: There’s Something Missing from Your Financials

by Michelle Martineau

Man working at computer thinking

(And you’ll never get public consensus without it)

At ClearGov, when we talk to local governments about transparency, we often hear a familiar refrain, ‘Thanks, but we’re already very transparent. We post our annual budget right on our website for everyone to see.’

They’re right, of course. With all the recent attention around OPEN data laws, most local governments dutifully post a PDF of their annual budget somewhere on their website — and that does technically check the transparency box. But, there’s a big difference between being transparent and being clear.

People today are awash in data — and simply piling more on isn’t helpful. That’s especially true when it comes to communicating budget information to taxpayers. There’s more to transparency than dutifully documenting and publishing line item after line item for posterity.

To be clear, you need to go beyond posting the annual 300-page PDF to your website, and actually distill all those numbers into something more digestible and more accessible to the average citizen. By “distill,” I mean that you have to extract the essential details and put them in context so people understand. If that sounds like a lot more work for you, it’s really not. Please hear me out.

Without context, what do all of those numbers really mean?

For example, you can tell taxpayers you spent $50M on education, but without a frame of reference, do they understand what that really means? Is $50M too much? Too little? Suppose you tell those same people that you spent 25 percent less than similar towns and your students scored 10 percent higher on assessments. That’s valuable context. Now they have a frame of reference and can begin to make an informed decision about what they value and how they want their tax dollars spent.

The goal of transparency is not only to inform citizens, but to foster understanding and in turn build trust. Your annual budget answers who, what, when, and where. Context adds the missing why and how. In the end, it helps you tell a more complete story — one that residents can appreciate and therefore may be more inclined to support.

Information overload won’t educate people about the truth, it will only obscure it.

Presenting your financials in a clear and compelling format is in everyone’s best interest. When citizens don’t understand where their tax dollars go, they lose trust and they get angry. They make phone calls. They show up at town meetings (the few that actually have time on a school night). They post on social media. They spread misinformation (often unintentionally, but the results are nevertheless destructive).

You work hard to plan for your community and make the difficult decisions about who gets what services, how much they get, and who pays. The public deserves to know the rationale behind those decisions. After all, without context, it’s unlikely they’ll arrive at the same conclusions you did. And, if you don’t give people the whole story, they’ll look elsewhere to fill in the gaps. That means someone else will tell your story for you and that rarely ends well.

In a word, “context” is the whole reason our CEO founded ClearGov in the first place. Four years ago, a simple attempt to cast an informed vote on a proposed tax increase in his town led him down a fiscal rabbit hole. After digging through the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for answers, he came up empty handed. In frustration, he invented a platform that aggregates and translates complex fiscal data into clear, actionable intelligence for government agencies and the residents they serve. Most importantly, the platform allows government officials ample opportunities to easily add valuable context to their story.

Since then, ClearGov has created infographic-based transparency profiles for every civic entity in the U.S. — including yours. All told, our database now spans 40,000+ municipal profiles and displays $15.7 trillion in local government spending. Cities and towns can claim and customize their ClearGov profiles for free or subscribe to a premium model with all the bells and whistles. In the current age of misinformation, hundreds of local governments are already leveraging this model to drive transparency, improve public trust, and build consensus.

Let's be clear, claim your free transparency profile.

ClearGov lets you add essential context to your financials.

Because ClearGov has already built fully operational profiles for every local government, the hard part (translating your financials into compelling, infographics) is essentially done. You supply a simple report and we update your numbers for you. In fact, you can publish updated numbers more frequently than you do now. Instead of posting a PDF once a year, you can actually update the infographics every quarter or every month if you like.

ClearGov makes adding context easy too. Here are three ways you can use your ClearGov profile to fill in the gaps on your financials — and drive better understanding and engagement in the process:

1. Add benchmarking: Compare your performance against relevant communities that provide similar services. In the past, this was a time-consuming and costly venture that required expensive consultants. Not anymore. ClearGov’s proprietary system ingests accounting data from local governments and automatically standardizes the chart of accounts so you’re always comparing apples to apples.

2. Add commentary: Sometimes a simple sentence or two can clarify a figure and reveal the rationale behind spending, funding, and debt. Charts are great for illustrating trends, but they can’t explain the factors driving the trends. That’s when strategically placed commentary can shed valuable light on important background data that would otherwise be missing.

3. Incorporate non-financial metrics: Other factors, like the impact of changing demographics, can provide valuable insight into why revenues are down or why public school attendance is up. Use them.

In the end, we think transparency (with context) makes everybody’s job easier — yours as a public servant and your constituents’ as informed citizens. Just to drive it home, we made this nifty fact sheet for you: 10 Ways Fiscal Transparency Makes Everybody’s Job Easier. Download, print, share, enjoy.

Brock Bair Joins ClearGov Executive Team

by Chris Bullock

Gov-tech startup taps serial SaaS exec to spearhead go-to-market strategy and advance mission

brock-bair-joins-cleargovMaynard, MA (5/21/19)—ClearGov, a leading provider of affordable transparency, budgeting, and forecasting solutions for local governments, is pleased to announce Brock Bair has joined the company’s executive team filling the newly created role of vice president of marketing. Bair brings 20+ years of product marketing and demand generation expertise in the software as a service (SaaS) space, and will be charged with honing and communicating the ClearGov vision, brand, and solution set as well as expanding ClearGov’s presence across channels.

“Brock is a strategic marketer with a proven track record of driving results for high-growth startups,” said CEO Chris Bullock. “We’re pleased to welcome him to the ClearGov team and we’re confident in his ability to advance our mission to help local governments function more efficiently and effectively.”

Brock is a hands-on, data-driven marketer with extensive experience leading venture-backed tech companies to long-term growth. With his background in brand awareness, lead generation, and sales enablement at startups like Pattern, EventNut, and Smart Lunches (to name just a few), Brock is uniquely qualified to lead and mentor ClearGov’s newly expanded marketing operation.

“It’s exciting to be part of a mission-driven company like ClearGov and to be able to play a role in making democracy work better,” said Bair. “ClearGov has an accomplished marketing team in place already, and really strong leadership as well. I’m thrilled to join the team and look forward to executing scalable strategies to expand our growing community of transparent, data-driven, modern governments.”

 

About ClearGov

ClearGov is on a mission to build a community of transparent, data-driven, modern governments. ClearGov provides a full suite of turnkey, cloud-based solutions to help local municipalities drive transparency, streamline budgeting, and better engage residents.  ClearGov’s award-winning platform is currently used by hundreds of communities across 26 different states. For more information, visit www.cleargov.com.

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PRESS CONTACT:

Jena Skivington
585.507.5733
jskivington@cleargov.com

USA Today Features ClearGov Among Best Places to Work in Boston

by Michelle Martineau

(Psst … We’re hiring! Come join our winning team!)

We’re honored to announce that ClearGov has been featured in USA Today and recognized by the compensation, culture, and career monitoring website Comparably.com as a Best Place to Work in 2019. It seems the “ClearGovernors” (aka: our employees) have spoken and they had nothing but nice things to say.  

Over the last year, workers from across the Boston region anonymously rated their employers on the Comparably website. After answering a series of over 50 structured workplace questions in core culture categories — including compensation, leadership, professional development, work-life balance, perks, and benefits — survey participants ranked ClearGov as one of the top 15 places to work.

It turns out “Making democracy work better” is more than just an awesome tagline, it’s a fun, meaningful, and rewarding way to put your talents to the test. For a small startup that’s barely four years young, ClearGov has already made a name for itself as a leader in municipal technology and a really great place to work. Last year, we doubled our client base, grew our partnership network, launched two new products, and welcomed new talent to our team — expanding our employee base by 150 percent. And, we’re still growing strong.

“It takes more than competitive wages, good benefits, and foosball to attract and retain top talent,” says ClearGov CEO Chris Bullock. “We’re pleased to have created a positive work environment and inclusive culture that rewards creativity, passion, and innovation.”

If you’re interested in working at one of the best places in Greater Boston, with the most talented team in gov tech, a frequently awesome playlist, and all the chocolate you can eat, I know just the place. And they’re hiring. Join us!

 

ClearGov Debuts Powerful New Project Communications Tool for Local Governments

by Chris Bullock

Mission-driven startup introduces affordable, scalable way to keep interested residents informed about ongoing community projects

Maynard, MA (3/14/19) – ClearGov, a leader in municipal technology, announced today it has introduced an easy new way for local governments and school districts to inform residents about capital projects and other important community initiatives.

The new ClearGov Projects application, which comes free with the ClearGov Insights platform, allows town and school officials to quickly create and publish project pages that not only shine a spotlight on capital development, but also help to spread the word far and wide. These template-driven pages take only minutes to populate and post, and allow agencies to share project timelines, documents, budgets, and more in one centralized location.

While today’s taxpayers have a vested interest in capital projects like new construction and sewer and road improvements, they don’t have a lot of time — especially at the end of a long work day when most public meetings take place (and where projects like these are typically discussed). And, with fewer beat reporters tracking local town council events, it’s increasingly difficult for citizens to stay informed about the issues they care about most.

ClearGov CEO Chris Bullock says, “ClearGov Projects gives local governments a new 24/7 communications channel that makes it easy for interested residents to get educated, updated, and provide feedback or ask questions about a highlighted project.” According to Bullock, once an agency creates a page for their project they can easily publish it to ClearGov, syndicate it to their website, and share it on social media to drive engagement.

Residents can also follow a project to keep tabs on the latest developments by simply visiting the page and clicking on the Subscribe to Project Updates button. Once subscribed, they’ll automatically receive email notifications every time information on the page gets updated. If project deadlines change or progress stalls, project page followers will be among the first to know.

The Village of Rye Brook in Westchester County, New York is already leveraging the innovative project communications tool to promote critical, public-funded construction activities in their community. Rye Brook is among the first municipalities in the country to go live with a ClearGov Project Page. An early adopter of ClearGov Insights, Rye Brook launched the state’s first infographic-based Fiscal Transparency Center back in March of 2017. Since then, another 17 New York communities have followed suit launching centers of their own, powered by ClearGov.

Last October, the Village kicked off a year-long construction project to replace its existing 80-year old public works facility with a modern new complex better equipped to meet the community’s needs. The serendipitous release of the new ClearGov Projects app gave Village Administrator Chris Bradbury an easy new way to keep Rye Brook residents informed about how the project is progressing. “Using ClearGov Projects,” he explained, “I was able to quickly publish a page that housed everything related to the new facility, including detailed blueprints and current and projected expenditures. We expect that our ClearGov Project Page will not only help keep our community better informed and engaged, but will also save my team countless hours of effort that would otherwise be required to respond to questions from our constituents.”

The page, accessible via the Village’s Transparency Site, includes pictures, a feasibility study, and other planning documents, as well as a frequently updated timeline detailing key project milestones. Bradbury says the page is particularly useful for residents who live in close proximity to the construction site and are likely to be most affected in the coming months.

Project pages also include an optional comments feature which enables page owners to invite visitors to ask questions or post feedback in a moderated forum. It’s a good opportunity for public leaders to uncover issues they perhaps weren’t aware of, and also to potentially identify previously silent supporters who can help champion a project and build consensus and momentum. ClearGov CEO Chris Bullock adds, “it’s also a great way to get a heads up on any public misconceptions so you’re not blindsided at your next public hearing.”

About ClearGov

ClearGov is on a mission to build a community of transparent, data-driven, modern governments. ClearGov provides a full suite of turnkey, cloud-based solutions to help local municipalities drive transparency, streamline budgeting, and better engage residents.  ClearGov’s award-winning platform is currently used by hundreds of communities across 23 different states.

PRESS CONTACT:

Jena Skivington
585.507.5733
jskivington@cleargov.com