Baltimore to Use Data Transparency to Gain Public Trust

Mayor Brandon Scott is spearheading efforts to increase transparency in city government. Data-driven tools are helping Baltimore residents drill into how the administration is meeting its goals and a range of other topics.

Semi-transparent digital image of a graph overlayed over an image of a laptop.
In recent years, the city of Baltimore has grappled with the heel-toe resignation of three chief information officers and two large ransomware attacks in 2018 and 2019, eroding public trust and inspiring a push for more transparency.

Mayor Brandon M. Scott, who took office in December 2020, is spearheading that charge for a more open city government. On Feb. 3, he announced the 100 Days of Action Tracker, which allows the public to track the status of the various accomplishments of his administration.

In a written response to Government Technology, Scott said that the 100 Days of Action Tracker emerged as part of this guiding effort to increase transparency, emphasizing the importance of ensuring residents can track the work of their elected officials.

The code and data used by the city was made open source so that other governments could implement their own versions of the tool, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Performance and Innovation Dan Hymowitz said in a press release
. Baltimore’s code can be viewed on and downloaded from GitHub.

According to Scott, increasing transparency within city government is his highest priority as mayor.

This effort to increase transparency goes back to 2016 and his service on Baltimore’s City Council, where he introduced and passed legislation to create a city open data policy. This legislation required the regular release of city data, including crime statistics and salary information.

“The open data policy was a great first step, but even in 2021, we know that we still have a long way to go,” explained Scott in his response. “The inner-workings of city government should not be a secret, and the open-data policy strengthens the public’s right to obtain information about what’s going on.”

As council president, Scott explained, he used a similar platform to the 100 Days of Action Tracker to involve residents in the city’s governing process, which received positive feedback.

The mayoral transition team, made up of over 250 Baltimore residents, developed recommendations for short- and long-term goals for the administration; Scott and his executive team turned those recommendations into a first-term strategy, leading to the tracking tool.

There were 58 planned actions for the first 100 days, and Baltimore residents were able to view which of these were complete, in progress or not yet started through color-coded status descriptions at any time. The data can be downloaded and viewed in spreadsheet format.

The tool, produced by the Office of Performance and Innovation, is focused on six priority areas: public safety; making the city equitable; prioritizing youth; building public trust; COVID-19 recovery; and the responsible stewardship of resources. Of the 58 planned actions in these priority areas, 23 were completed and 31 were in progress as of the final day of tracking, March 18, 2021.

Scott’s efforts as mayor to strengthen Baltimore with open data extend beyond this novel tool. On March 22, he named Justin Elszasz as the administration’s chief data officer and Jason Hardebeck as the city’s first director of broadband and digital equity.

Another effort highlighted by Scott was the launch of Open Checkbook. Open Checkbook — first published on April 15 — displays information on how the city is spending money with vendors. The user-friendly platform clearly displays spending trends, estimates and the like. Residents can compare spending by agency or look at spending broken down by category or vendor.

According to the platform, the next data release will include FY2021 Q1 and will be released in July 2021. Future features may include local, minority-owned and women-owned business categories.

He also highlighted the launch of an improved Open Data Hub, an action taken within the first 100 days that makes information easily accessible to the public. The website provides a variety of data sets that can be downloaded and analyzed by the public. Available data provides residents with information about voting data, service requests, arrest rates and more.

“From the tracker to Open Checkbook, we know that we need to continue to build trust between residents and city government,” Scott wrote in his response. “Allowing them direct access to see what’s happening is a significant step.”

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.