The Big Easy Budget Game and Open for open data

This report is part of the event report series on International Open Data Day 2019. On Saturday 2nd March, groups from around the world organised over 300 events to celebrate, promote and spread the use of open data. Committee for a Better New Orleans and Center for education and transparency – CETRA from Serbia received funding through the mini-grant scheme by Hivos / Open Contracting Partnership and Mapbox, to organise events under the Equal Development and Open Mapping themes respectively. This is a joint report produced by Kelsey Foster and Predrag Mijalković.

To celebrate Open Data Day 2019, the Committee for a Better New Orleans partnered with Code for New Orleans to launch the 2019 version of the Big Easy Budget Game, an interactive website that asks residents to balance their city budget.  

CBNO and Code for New Orleans’ Open Data Day 2019 event was held at Wrong Iron, a new beer garden located on a greenway through the heart of a residential neighbourhood on March 12. March 2 was the officially observed Open Data Day, but fell in the midst of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations. New Orleans City District A Council member Joe Giarrusso and staff from City Council District C attended the event and spoke with constituents about the importance of resident input into the budget. About 75 New Orleanians attended the event.

The inspiration for the Big Easy Budget Game came in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Five years after the storm, the Committee for a Better New Orleans convened neighbors from across the city to talk about what wasn’t working for them. The story we heard over and over again was: the money. Where is it going? In a city where billions of dollars of recovery aid had been flowing in for years, many still saw the house next door empty, the roads  unpaved, and their street lights burnt out. When our former Mayor Ray Nagin was indicted on twenty-one charges of wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering, it became clear that transparency in our city budget was necessary– but how can residents hold government accountable for a $1 billion, 800-page document that they don’t understand?

At CBNO, we saw an opportunity to build a bridge between government and residents, while empowering our community to learn and give input into a process that had previously been closed to them. No public document affects the lives of residents more than the budget: it holds our bus schedules, the books in our libraries, and the lights on our basketball courts.

The Big Easy Budget Game shows residents how much funding each city department receives in a year and tells them what happens if they give more or less funding. Residents can see how the government works and make decisions on funding based on what they need in their communities. On our end, CBNO receives the data from hundreds of residents a year that we can share with our mayor, city council, and civil society organizations. Each year, our data is compiled into The People’s Budget Report and shared with government leaders and our community.

New Orleans City Councilman, District A, Joe Giarrusso talks about the importance of the city budget at #ODD2019 in New Orleans

On the other side of the world, in Serbia, civil society organization „Center for education and transparency – CETRA“ arranged a local educational event for around 30 citizens and media representatives in the city of Pančevo. With the intent to celebrate Open data day 2019, we hosted a informal lecture „Open for open data“ in a local coffee shop, which took place on March the 16th.

Given that the concept of open data is not yet widespread and familiar in Serbian ecosystem, this was the opportunity to promote the concept by distributing a manual-brochure that explains how can open data be used in local governments but also what is the added value that it brings in terms of saving money, time and energy for our citizens.

Since “CETRA” is one of the pioneers among civil society organizations to work on opening data in Serbian municipalities, we presented our experience about the process to the participants, but also took the opportunity to gain valuable insight from the citizens about the data sets they think should be opened in the following period. Currently “CETRA” is participating in a project on opening geo-spatial data sets of 4 Serbian cities, so this community gathering served as a superb chance for promoting the need for more open geo-spatial data initiatives in our country.

Mapping geospatial data helps us by showing where things are in the world. If this data is made open, then more people and organisations can build apps, local services and more. Citizens from our city wanted to learn what are the geospatial data sets that can be created and explored, so we presented variety of examples, from databases on the national road network to databases on mineral deposits, storage of hazardous materials, population estimates, neighborhood demographics.

Our community also had the chance to be presented with the existence of national open data portal in Serbia, which can be found on the following address:https://data.gov.rs/en/ . Important remarks came from some of our fellow citizens that we should work more on opening data sets from our own city of Pančevo and that is something that we will focus on in the future.

Residents and media representatives from the city of Pančevo attending the “Open for open data” event