How to #CivicTech: Ron Galperin, Los Angeles Controller

Here’s the idea that we’re built on: Government works better when its officials take advantage of technology.

It doesn’t just make things easier — when it’s done right, it can open up new levels of accessibility and effectiveness within government that just didn’t exist before. And when that happens it’s worth giving some credit.

In a recent guest post on Route Fifty, City of Los Angeles controller Ron Galperin shared a philosophy that you may have seen on this blog before:

“Most of the focus on the open data revolution has centered on citizen access to information — or on the potential for private companies to utilize and monetize this data. Don’t get me wrong: I believe wholeheartedly that open data empowers citizens and improves the democratic process…But do you know who else can derive extraordinary value from government data? Government itself.”

(It’s cool, Ron. That idea’s open-source.)

Faced with not only inefficiency but broad-based confusion about the endless maze of technocratic rules that control the flow of special government funds, and with the people in charge of those funds often unknown even to people within the government, Galperin embraced Civic Tech as a solution. He spearheaded the creation of Control Panel LA, moving vital financial information about the city from dusty binders to a simple, searchable online hub. The result?

“Anyone with an Internet connection can see, with a few mouse clicks, where each fund’s revenues come from, how the money can be spent, and, perhaps most important, who’s responsible for overseeing each fund.”

Galperin’s story is impressive by itself, but it’s all the more important because it highlights a significant trend: More and more people are turning to the internet by default to learn about the workings of their government at all levels — federal state, and local. The Internet has become the default resource for huge chunks of the American electorate on all things, political and otherwise. And civic tech is the perfect tool to meet that trend: Bringing government online, in ways as intricate as Control Panel LA and as simple as a basic, effective campaign website, makes government more accessible not only to the people, but to government itself.

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