Retooling for the Massachusetts Community Compact Initiative

by Audrey Hall

ClearGov Helps Municipalities Achieve Best Practices Goals

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s first executive order launched the Community Compact Initiative (CCI), which encourages towns and cities to voluntarily enter into formal agreements with the administration to work towards best practice goals. When a community signs up it has to agree to implement at least one “best practice” which is selected from a variety of subject areas. Municipalities earn points along the way which can translate into support and funding opportunities.

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito has met with cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth to adopt best practices in the categories of Education, Energy and Environment, Financial Management, Housing and Economic Development, Information Technology, Regionalization/Shared Services, Transportation and Citizen Safety. A primary focus of these best practices is information – not just to collect it or have it, but to make it readily available and accessible, to engage citizens – to achieve a higher level of transparency. What exactly is transparency and how is it achieved?

If information is available but difficult to sort through, navigate and access, that’s not transparency. If information is presented in technical terms filled with unfamiliar acronyms and jargon that’s not transparency. When information is provided out of context without explanation of twists, turns, spikes and declines, that’s not transparency.

Putting mounds of data out there just to say it’s there is not transparency and it can be counterproductive. It can confuse and frustrate the user while generating more questions, fueling doubt and eroding trust. Genuine transparency requires clarity. It comes from the facilitation of understanding.  Transparency means anticipating the users’ expectations and proactively meeting them. The data has to be easy to navigate, presented in laymen’s terms, in context of the larger story and accompanied by educational information which anticipates and addresses potential questions, and as a best practice, welcomes citizen engagement.

There’s a big difference between superficial transparency and genuine transparency. Genuine transparency requires user friendly, consumable data presented with clarity, in context and with opportunities for engagement. That’s what ClearGov’s unique transparency platform is all about.

Lt. Gov. Karen Polito signs the Town of Framingham’s Community Compact supporting their transparency project through ClearGov 

When Framingham became the 143rd community to sign a compact agreement, CFO Mary Ellen Kelly said “We can get to real transparency quickly using ClearGov, and it also translates into points we can earn in the Compact Initiative. It’s not just the transparency, she said, it’s in such a compelling, user friendly format which will make the information so clear for our residents.” ClearGov helps everyone have a more informed and empirically accurate conversation.

ClearGov.com is the only platform which has transformed complex and confusing financial statements and key metrics for all Massachusetts communities into easy-to-understand, interactive infographics.

Municipal officials can use the “Claim My Page” feature to provide local customization to the page, respond to public inquires and request a full demo. When municipalities subscribe the data is expanded, updated, and the pages are embedded or linked to the municipalities’ websites. Powerful benchmarking tools are also provided to municipal officials for their exclusive use.

ClearGov’s powerful transparency and benchmarking data platform is helping communities achieve their best practice goals, earn points as part of their Community Compact agreements and become more efficient, productive service providers. The cumulative effect will be seen throughout the Commonwealth.

For more information go to www.ClearGov.com and claim your page!

ClearGov Wins TechCrunch Pitch-Off in Boston

by Audrey Hall

 

HOPKINTON, MA – ClearGov, a start-up based in Hopkinton, MA took first place in AOL Inc.’s TechCrunch Pitch-Off this week at the Royale in Boston.  Billed as an event showcasing the “Cream of the Boston Startup Crop,” TechCrunch has been hosting startup competitions in Boston every year since 2013 .

ClearGov was one of only 10 finalist start-up companies chosen to participate.  CEO and Founder Chris Bullock was given 60 seconds on stage to pitch ClearGov to a packed house of hundreds of attendees and a panel of judges made up of local venture capitalists and TechCrunch editors.

Bullock said, “Everyone has a right to know how their local property tax dollars are being managed. ClearGov transforms complex and confusing municipal financial reports into easy-to-understand infographics that benchmark cities’ and towns’ performance against statistical peers. The platform helps local governments better communicate their financial performance to help inform voters and policy makers.” Bullock continued, “Being selected by the panelists as the winner was a great validation for our business and clear indicator that there is demand for tools that help governments drive efficiencies.”

ClearGov will be awarded an exhibitor table at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016, an event described as “the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups.”

ClearGov was also recently named by the editors of Government Technology magazine to the GovTech100 – the leading 100 government-focused companies with innovative or disruptive offerings.

Financials for all Massachusetts, California and New York municipalities are available at www.ClearGov.com. The data is expanded and upgraded for subscribing municipalities and linked to or embedded within their websites.

TechCrunch is an AOL owned, leading technology media property, dedicated to obsessively profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products, and breaking tech news.

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About ClearGov

ClearGov transforms city and town financial statements into easy-to-understand infographics to help citizens better understand how their tax dollars are being put to use.  Local governments leverage ClearGov to more clearly communicate their financial performance in an effort to build citizen trust and participation through transparency.   ClearGov also provides valuable municipal benchmarking intelligence to help government leaders make more informed and data-driven policy and budgetary decisions while opening the door wider to sharing best practices between municipalities.

GovTech100 Highlights ClearGov in Top 5 to Watch

by Chris Bullock

Govtech100-Web-Email-Badge.jpg

Hopkinton, MA – January 20, 2016 – Government Technology (GovTech.com), an award-winning magazine covering information technology’s role in state and local governments, announced today the inclusion of ClearGov Inc. in their top 100 companies focused on developing innovative solutions designed to improve and transform state and local government services.   ClearGov is highlighted as one of the “Top 5 to Watch” that “merit attention” and are “already writing the next chapter of public innovation.”

“We are delighted to be included in the inaugural GovTech100 as one of the most innovative companies in this emerging field,” said Chris Bullock, CEO of ClearGov.  “ClearGov has only been in existence for a mere eight months, so it is truly an honor to recognized amongst such successful and impactful companies at this early stage in our corporate story.”
The editors of Government Technology together with e.Republic Labs, a sister organization focused on civic innovation and new market entrants, have developed the inaugural GovTech100, a listing of the leading 100 companies focused on government as a customer, having developed an innovative or disruptive offering to improve or transform government, or having created new models for delivering services.

Seen as a market, government technology as a whole is an industry that accounts for $180 billion in state and local government alone, according to analysis by the Center for Digital Government. This new GovTech slice has come into its own, emerging as a stand-alone industry composed of hundreds of startup companies even after no fewer than 23 acquisitions, and having attracted $1 billion in private capital investment.

Click here to see the full GovTech100 list.

Cleargov Selected for Social Innovation Forum’s  2016 Social Business Accelerator

by Chris Bullock

 

Social Innovation Forum

Six entrepreneurs focused on profit and purpose to receive mentoring and support for growth

BOSTON, MA – ClearGov Inc. has been selected for the Social Innovation Forum’s 2016 Social Business Accelerator, a 12-week program designed to give social purpose businesses access to knowledge, connections, and growth capital that generates both social and financial returns.

The Social Innovation Forum (SIF) selected the six finalists from a pool of over 50 applicants through an intense and highly competitive screening process. Starting January 19, these “Impact Entrepreneurs” will participate in workshops, guest speaker sessions, and one-on-one advising with mentors from the business and startup communities. The program will culminate with pitches to potential investors at SIF’s 4th annual Impact Investing Showcase on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

“We are delighted to welcome ClearGov to our newest cohort of social impact businesses,” said SIF Executive Director Susan Musinsky. “These entrepreneurs have exciting business models that marry profitability with social good. We are excited to begin working with them to accelerate their growth.”

SIF launched its Social Business Accelerator four years ago in response to a growing interest in impact investing among both investors and philanthropists. To date, 18 businesses have gone through the accelerator and 50% have since received funding.

The Social Innovation Forum’s 2016 Impact Entrepreneur cohort includes the following social impact startups:

  • ClearGov empowers citizens with easy to understand government financial data to help drive positive change and collaboration with government.
  • EnergySage offers an online platform that enables consumers to compare solar quotes from pre-screened solar installers.
  • KinderLab Robotics provides educational toys and products to schools and families that expose young children to technology and STEM concepts in a uniquely age-appropriate way.
  • PlenOptika has created the “QuickSee,” a low-cost handheld device that provides eyeglass prescriptions at the push of a button.
  • PSM Clean Energy’s online platform enables individuals to make direct impact investments in local solar projects developed and managed by PSM’s team of solar experts.
  • WiCare has created the “Wound Pump,” a simplified and low-cost medical device that uses negative pressure therapy to treat open wounds.

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The Social Innovation Forum (SIF) provides a unique combination of capacity building and network building to create positive social change in greater Boston. We actively connect supporters (funders, investors, and volunteers) and practitioners (nonprofit and social business leaders) to build productive relationships focused on growing social impact. Founded in 2003 as a program of Root Cause, SIF incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization in 2015. For more information, visit www.socialinnovationforum.org

About ClearGov

ClearGov transforms city and town financial statements into easy-to-understand infographics to help citizens better understand how their tax dollars are being put to use.  Local governments leverage ClearGov to more clearly communicate their financial performance in an effort to build citizen trust and participation through transparency.   ClearGov also provides valuable municipal benchmarking intelligence to help government leaders make more informed and data-driven policy and budgetary decisions.

ClearGov Announces Premium Financial Transparency Platform for Local Governments

by Chris Bullock

meet-cleargov-premier-visual-budget

Today we are excited to announce the next evolution of the ClearGov platform.  ClearGov Premier ™ is a powerful new service for municipalities to better communicate their financial performance and engage their community.  Now municipalities can “claim” their ClearGov page and unlock a series of unique features including:

Expanded Financials – Add current year and forward-looking data, as well as added granularity so visitors can drill deeper into your financials.

Engagement Tools – People need to feel like the government is listening and want to be able to ask questions.  ClearGov empowers local officials to respond and engage directly with visitors.

Enhanced Visualizations – Upgraded ClearGov pages enjoy additional trending and charting options.

Additional Funds – Go beyond general fund data by sharing enterprise funds, reserve funds and more.

Commentary – Cities and towns have a story to tell and our commentary functionality enables local governments to overlay their metrics with critical insider insights.

Events – Promote upcoming events and elections to drive community attendance and turnout.

Customization – Add a local touch by adding a seal or even embed ClearGov graphics into your local government’s website.

Our first local government to go live on the Premier™ platform is the Town of Easton.  You may visit their site here.  Stay tuned as we have many more cities and towns coming soon…

Pricing for this new service is based on the municipalities population and starts at only $995 per year.

ClearGov works with any municipal financial software and can be up and running in days.  The platform is built on the latest technology architectures and is mobile ready.

To claim you local governments page click here.

If your local government does not have a ClearGov page yet, please send us a request to add one here.

Now More Clearly See How Your Town Compares

by Chris Bullock

At ClearGov we pride ourselves on being good listeners and taking direction from our clients.  So when one of our newest clients mentioned that they would like to see a visual comparison of how their town compares to similar towns, we took that to task.

The result is that today we released a small enhancement that has a big visual impact.  Benchmarking is core to ClearGov and conveying the data behind this benchmarking is a key element of validating the figures.  With this in mind we have added a new stacked bar chart to our benchmarking modal windows.  Now whenever you click a benchmark metric for more info you will see this:

city-town-benchmarking
Clicking on any benchmark metric now reveals a stack ranked bar chart for peer municipalities.

This bar chart stack ranks the per capita figure that you are benchmarking for each municipality.  So you can not only see that your town spends 35% more on education, for instance, than similar towns, but you can also see how this stack ranks against these similar towns.

We hope you find this enhancement interesting and useful.  Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.

 

ClearGov Awarded Grant through Knight Foundation’s Innovative Prototype Fund

by Chris Bullock

We are excited to announce that ClearGov has been selected as one of twenty recipients of the Knight Foundations Prototype Fund grant.  The Prototype Fund is quite unique in the world of grant-making as it invests in early-stage concepts versus established organizations.  Almost akin to a non-profit business accelerator, the fund is focused on providing media and information concepts get off the ground by providing a grant of $35,000.

We are excited to be associated with and supported by such a forward-thinking program.  And we are looking forward to putting the grant to great use to further drive transparency in local governments.

You can learn more about the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund here:

http://knightfoundation.org/press-room/press-release/knight-prototype-fund-invests-20-projects/

ClearGov Advances Municipal Benchmarking by Incorporating Home Values

by Chris Bullock

At ClearGov we believe that numbers by themselves rarely tell the full story.  One must understand how each number relates not only to its respective historical figures, but also to its peers.  With this in mind, we decided to build peer benchmarking into the DNA of ClearGov.

We were told countless times that municipal benchmarking is difficult.  “There are so many factors to consider when comparing towns” was an oft heard comment.  While we agree every town and city is unique, we also know from experience in Big Data that benchmarking is never 100% perfect – but it can get close with the right data.

With our latest release of ClearGov today, we are taking a big step forward in improving the intelligence that we provide to citizens and internal municipal stakeholders.  After many discussions with local municipal leaders we’ve decided to incorporate Average Assessed Home Values into our benchmarking algorithm.

Municipal Benchmarking
Clicking a benchmark metric reveals what towns are being used in the comparison.

Traditionally our benchmarking model identified peer towns and cities by looking for municipalities with similar populations within a certain radius (measured in miles) of the town being analyzed.  While this model captured many similar cities, it also captured cities that had vastly different tax bases.  In other words, two towns could be close in proximity and population, but one town may be much wealthier.  This difference in wealth results in a very different tax base and budget dynamic.

So we decided to use home value as a proxy for citizen wealth to better accommodate for different tax bases in our peer comparisons.  The result is a vast improvement in ClearGov’s ability to dynamically identify peer municipalities and better benchmarking metrics.

The updated benchmarking algorithm is part of a larger site refresh launched today.  The latest release includes new animated charting, per citizen metrics and an updated site structure.

The updated benchmarking algorithm has been incorporated into all Massachusetts cities and towns.  New York and California will be updated soon.

 

About ClearGov Inc.

ClearGov helps the average citizen better understand their local government and how their tax dollars are being spent.  Local government leaders also leverage ClearGov to better understand how their municipality compares to peers in an effort to make more informed budgeting decisions.

 

 

Follow us on Twitter @cleargovcom

Open Data is Just the First Step

by Chris Bullock

While the idea of Open Government has been around for centuries, it hasn’t been until the last decade that we’ve witnessed the emergence of true and widespread governmental transparency.  The concept that citizens should have the right to access the internal documents, finances and operational workings of government actually dates back to the “Age of Enlightenment” during the late 1600’s and early 1700’s in Western Europe.   Open Government transformed from a concept to actual law when United States passed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to help drive transparency and government accountability.   But it wasn’t until the advent of the Internet that true Open Government could become a reality.

In December of 2009, President Obama established the Open Government Initiative.  The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration would serve as cornerstones.  The directive outlined goals to actively leverage the internet to publish government information online, improve the quality of this information, and create policy framework and a culture that enables Open Government.

This leadership by the White House did not go unnoticed and has been a driving force behind increasingly open State and Local governments.  Open Government is now a practice that is being followed by thousands of governments and has even spawned a whole new industry in support of this effort.

Yet this evolution in government has brought to light new issues and challenges.  We now find ourselves awash in seas of data that is accessible, but seemingly overwhelming and difficult to understand.  It has become common practice for governments to post spreadsheet databases to their official site with the thinking that either the average investigative citizen will dig into the data or that an aspiring entrepreneur will come along and turn the data into insight.

These difficult to decipher spreadsheets and reports frustrate citizens and unfortunately feed mistrust.  Simply put, people don’t trust what they don’t understand.  Posting data that only government insiders can decipher is really not moving the transparency needle as intended.  While this may appease the concept of Open Government on the surface, it does not meet the true spirit of participation and collaboration.  While it is true that creative companies, such as ClearGov, do leverage this data to power insightful visual graphics and tools, it is difficult to believe that government should rely solely on third party companies to communicate and share this data with its constituency.

Making data more open and accessible is a great first step, but it is just a first step in a journey that we as a people are just beginning to take.  To truly realize the power of open data governments must collaborate with enterprises in breathing life into data through dynamic visualizations that help the average citizen digest and make sense of the data.  This visual translation of data represents the next step in Open Government and has the potential to realize the initial vision of its authors.

Making the data easy to understand and digest is a big leap forward towards driving trust and understanding.  And when people trust and understand they begin to get engaged.  If participation and collaboration are true end goals then data needs to be brought to life.

ClearGov Announces Enhanced Town Financial Benchmarking

by Chris Bullock

ClearGov was developed to help the average citizen better understand how their tax dollars are being put to use.  A major element to this mission involves benchmarking town’s finances.  In other words, how do you know whether $35 million spent on your town’s education system is a proper figure without a point of reference.  Benchmarking this figure against other towns provides that meaningful baseline for comparison.

Today ClearGov has launched enhanced town financial benchmarking technology to better identify towns for more accurate comparisons.  ClearGov’s new comparison modeling takes into account two key factors:  proximity of towns and population size.

When benchmarking Town X’s finances ClearGov’s smart algorithm first looks for other towns with a population within 50% deviation (up or down) of Town X’s.  In other words, if Town X has a population of 10,000, ClearGov will identify towns within the same state with populations between 5,000 and 15,000.

Next the ClearGov limits this pool of towns to within a 20 mile radius of Town X.  If this combination of population and proximity filters do not produce a minimum of five towns to benchmark against, the smart algorithm gradually increases the radius and population deviation to “widen the net.”  This is especially critical for small towns in rural areas, as well as large cities.

Our goal is to continue to refine this algorithm to ensure that our town comparisons properly identify true peer towns.  Stay tuned for continued enhancements in the near future!  In the meantime, please let us know if you have any questions, feedback or suggestions in the comments below.