For decades, Virginia Beach has been a leader in open government. The city began live broadcasting City Council meetings more than 30 years ago. In 2003, the city opened the first municipal Freedom of Information office in Virginia. Last year, Virginia Beach was recognized as one of America’s top digital cities.
Now, Virginia Beach is taking the next step in transparency: The city has launched an online open data portal, offering citizens as much information from the city’s datasets as possible. It is the first such portal among city and county governments in Hampton Roads.
The project is part of the national What Works Cities initiative. Launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies in April 2015, What Works Cities helps municipalities across the country use data and evidence to improve services, inform local decision-makers and engage residents.
Virginia Beach was recently chosen to participate in What Works Cities, joining 54 other cities nationwide. Today, the national initiative announced 16 new participating cities, including Virginia Beach.
“What Works Cities stands for open government and evidence-based government,” said Mayor William D. Sessoms, Jr. “I strongly believe in both. Virginia Beach is a stronger city when its citizens are well-informed and its leaders have access to the best data possible. What Works Cities will help us do both.”
As part of the initiative, Virginia Beach is working on two projects to help residents and businesses.
Open Data: The city is developing an inventory of all its data resources and today is opening a public online portal with the first 14 datasets, available for searching and downloading. Many more datasets will be added in coming months and years. The goal is to give citizens and employees access to as much information as possible.
Visit the OpenVB Data portal at Data.VBGov.com. The new website initially includes these downloadable datasets:
- Employee salaries
- Restaurant inspection results
- Code enforcement inspections
- New business licenses
- Police calls for service
- Police incidents
- Freedom of Information Act requests
- Park property Inventory
- Open space properties
- EMS calls for service
- Citizen Satisfaction Survey results
- Agricultural Reserve Program properties
- Workers Compensation claims
- Emergency communications system interruptions
The effort began in February under new City Manager Dave Hansen. Leaders from more than a dozen departments began meeting to determine the best way to throw open the city’s information vaults. Since then, every city department has been scouring its computers for datasets to release. A governing board is establishing rules and making sure every dataset is as accurate as possible.
Performance Management: The second part of the What Works Cities project in Virginia Beach calls for city leaders from different departments to collaborate on analyzing data to improve city services. To support the effort, Hansen appointed Catheryn Whitesell, the city’s longtime budget director, to lead the new STIR Office – short for Strategy, Transparency, Innovation and Resiliency.
Representatives from What Works Cities will work with Virginia Beach and tap best-case examples from other cities. Bloomberg Philanthropies has assembled a consortium of leading organizations to provide expert support, including officials from Results for America, the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University and the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“Virginia Beach has a tradition of open government and data-based decision-making,” Whitesell said. “Now we’re ready to take the next step. We’re cracking open databases to help our citizens stay informed, and help our employees break down department silos and tap the numbers. We’ll be looking for new ways to serve residents better.”
For more information on What Works Cities, visit here.