A modern revolution in information design provides many solutions to that problem.
Cook County, Ill. made a visualization tool called “Look at Cook” available online for its citizens. The tool features an interactive line graph showing year-to-year spending, with line items that can be drilled down through until users see exactly where their town’s money is spent. The program is an open source, meaning it’s free to use, though it does require some amount of technical expertise.
In Portsmouth, N.H., a city council candidate named Jack Thorsen has posted a tool that shows the municipal budget in a pie chart. That by itself is nothing impressive, but as soon as the user hovers their mouse cursor over the graphic it comes alive, spinning and expanding.
When a slice of the chart is clicked, say “Library,” a list opens to the right of the chart, documenting how the library funds are spent exactly, from overtime to postage to book-binding. Thorsen is developing his visualization tool as a business venture.
At a time when citizens and budget officers are calling for more creativity in allocating those scarce resources, a little creativity in presenting the budget can make community input a lot more valuable.
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