Remember Azeen's (awesome) story from a few months ago about how civic-minded hackers are using data to try to fix some of Oakland's stubbornest problems? WELL, a new project that aims to use data visualization to give average people the tools they need to understand — and, in turn, get involved with — Oakland's budgeting process, just went live a few days ago (in beta at least) and it's pretty sweet.
According to Adam Stiles, a member of the small, all-volunteer group working on the project, dubbed Open Budget Oakland, the first germ of the idea came at a hackathon last July, when Shawn McDougal, a UC Berkeley math teacher and community organizer, pitched the idea. From there, it snowballed into a full-blown website and civic project — one with legitimate buy-in from the city, no less: Stiles and the rest of the team will present the site at tonight's City Council meeting, at the request of city officials.
That's not all, though. Ultimately, Stiles said, the goal is to facilitate serious discussion between the public and the city: "Just seeing isn't enough," he said. "What we're trying to do now is connect people with the people who have control" — which is, in part, where tonight's City Council meeting comes in. Eventually, Stiles would like the site to act as a sort of clearinghouse for budget information, on which members of the public can ask questions of city staff — and actually get them answered.
"This is really about budget literacy, and conversation and sharing," Stiles said. "We're not taking a stance on the budget. We're simply saying that we think it could help people be more involved in helping shape Oakland's budget priorities. If we have a stance, it's that people should be more involved in politics in general, and specifically in the budget process."