OpenGov Voices: Cape Coral’s small budget approach to open government



Cape Coral, Fla., makes big open government progress with a small budget.

A key objective in the Strategic Plan for the city of Cape Coral, Fla., is to “provide an open government, accountability, and transparency to increase public trust and understanding.” We’ve made steady progress in our open government efforts the past few years through creating applications such as Expenditure Viewer and Utility Loan Payoff Viewer. We were excited when Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki suggested we apply for Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities (WWC) to accelerate our progress. In June, we were notified we were selected to participate in the program.

We began working with our What Works Cities team from the Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence and the Sunlight Foundation to establish our goals regarding open data and performance management. It quickly became apparent we would need a platform to host our open data and a tool for performance management. We began evaluating options and reviewed several platforms and tools that would accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, they were not financially feasible. We reached out to our WWC team for alternatives and after reviewing our options, chose to explore ESRI’s ArcGIS Open Data Platform.

This platform is included with ESRI’s ArcGIS Online solution, which Cape Coral already utilized, minimizing any additional costs. With the portal selected, our first goal was to take inventory of the datasets already in use by apps, such as those noted above, and publish them on the open data portal. Our IT staff quickly dug in and started learning how to use the tool. Within three months, we had published 60 open datasets and set up a public Open Data web page.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-4-54-14-pmMichelle Hoffmann is the IT director for Cape Coral.

With our Open Data ArcGIS solution in place, our staff moved to the next task – finding a tool for performance dashboards. We experimented with the free Power BI analytical tools since February 2016 when we converted to Office365. However, we were concerned about trying to use this option for our WWC engagement because Power BI Pro, which is needed to direct query databases, was not yet available to government organizations. The WWC team suggested we reach out to the city of Denver, which had been using the Power BI analytical tools to publish their dashboards. Denver staff shared their knowledge and insight regarding their use of Power Bl. Their commitment to the tool and experience helped ease our concerns, and we have since published several Power BI dashboards focusing on 311 and Community Development with more in development.

Through our partnership with What Works Cities, Cape Coral has been able to make significant progress on our strategic objective to achieve more transparency and provide access to open data to our community. In support of that objective, we have just executed an Administrative Regulation which will provide more structure over the city’s open data program going forward.

With What Works Cities’s assistance, we are accomplishing our goals at an accelerated pace and without the need for a significant investment of taxpayer funds. And that is something that works no matter where you are.