VC offers to fund open data for California counties

VC offers to fund open data for California counties

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, through his “Innovate Your State” non-profit, is donating up to $500,000 to give every California county a year-long subscription to OpenGov, a cloud-based financial analysis and transparency platform for governments.

“We are going to give everybody a great window on how those counties operate their finances,” Draper told the Sacramento Bee. “I challenge any county not to do this. It’s free. If they’re not doing it, what are they hiding?”

OpenGov is a software-as-a-service financial analysis platform that visualizes data generated by internal accounting systems, giving state and local governments a way to better analyze their spending and increasing financial transparency for citizens.  It has been used by more than 300 local and state governments since the startup’s 2012 founding.

People will be able to see “not just how much has been spent on police but dogs and jackets," Draper said.

But whether every county takes advantage of the offer remains to be seen, as small and mid-size jurisdictions may not have the manpower to power up OpenGov.

Chester Robertson, county administration officer for the Modoc County in rural Northern California, disagrees with Draper on the reasons for not using OpenGov. It’s not because the county is hiding its financials, he told the Sacramento Bee. “In recession times ... our reporting requirements are increasing and we have experienced declines in staff.”

Counties have the discretion to determine the data management systems they will use, California State Association of Counties spokesman Gregg Fishman told CNET in regards to Draper’s offer. Fishman noted that counties’ needs often vary by population size.  The populations of California’s 58 counties range in size from a little more than 1,200 (Alpine) to more than 10 million (Los Angeles). Five Californian counties currently use OpenGov.

OpenGov was the first award winner for Draper’s “Fix California Challenge,” which solicited ideas for public policy changes and let people cast votes for them online. OpenGov was not the favorite by public vote, although Draper did invest in the company, according to the Sacramento Bee. 

In a recent ranking of states’ online access to government spending data conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Ohio -- an OpenGov client -- received the top score for its work to make all financial information available to the public, drawing data from 3,962 state government entities. Other states with high rankings were Indiana, Wisconsin and Oregon. California ranked last with a score of 34 and an F rating.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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