The digital transparency company is building a network of website partners to disseminate fiscal data for every civic entity in the U.S., giving residents multiple avenues to see how their local governments are doing.
Where once there were town halls, city council meetings and local newspapers, many citizens have come to rely on the Internet for government transparency. Accordingly, ClearGov, a Massachusetts-based startup that makes data profiles for civic agencies across the U.S., is promoting government transparency and the reach of its platform at the same time by partnering with several major websites to publish its data.
On ClearGov’s blog this month, the company announced the launch of a content distribution network in partnership with websites Ballotpedia, GateHouse Media and Patch. With the stated goal of helping local governments and school districts inform and engage more citizens, those sites have agreed to start incorporating ClearGov’s compiled, infographic-based performance data into their own platforms, denoted by a “powered by ClearGov” label. The data tracks everything from population and median household income to revenues, debt and the progress of specific projects.
ClearGov CEO Chris Bullock said his company has built more than 40,000 transparency profiles covering every city, town, village and borough in the country, and it has begun making profiles for county governments and school districts as well. The data comes from various sources, including state portals, the U.S. Census and direct requests to state auditors and treasurers.
In a “freemium” business model comparable to Yelp, ClearGov makes limited profiles for free, then charges a fee for agencies to claim them and add more detailed, up-to-date info, commentary and context. Free and claimed profiles both allow visitors to leave comments.
Explaining to Government Technology why multiple outlets for this information are better than one, Bullock stressed the importance of just getting the data out there through as many channels as possible, ahead of misinformation and amateur interpretation.
“Any town that thinks their residents aren’t interested because they don’t show up at public forums is seriously mistaken, because there are hundreds if not thousands of well-educated people in your community talking about what’s going on … and they may or may not have the right facts. Your story is being told whether you like it or not, big community or small, and in this information age, (governments) have to adapt to that and tell their own story,” he said. “We believe that by distributing this content … you can reach people where they are, online, and start to engage them in a constructive dialogue in a more controlled environment, like ClearGov.”
For ClearGov, the partnership is also a way to increase the value of a government "claiming" their portal. According to ClearGov’s blog, the Patch network collectively generates about 25 million monthly unique visitors; Ballotpedia claims more than 285,000 articles and 1 billion-plus page views since its 2007 launch; and GateHouse Media, one of the nation’s largest publishers of local print and online news, reaches more than 22 million people in 37 states every week. The blog said in aggregate, Patch, Ballotpedia and GateHouse Media attract over 450 million page views a month. That's a lot of impressions, and higher stakes for dissemination about the government's information.
“It becomes another reason why building out your ClearGov profile makes financial sense for communities, because now they’re not only updating their financials on ClearGov … but we’re now disseminating this budgetary information out to these websites that get millions of viewers,” Bullock said. “Some towns say, ‘We can just put up a PDF of our budget,’ and while that checks the transparency box, it’s really poor at telling your story, and it doesn’t get in front of many people. Now we’re hitting both those fronts.”
Bullock said he’s been talking to other prospective partners, hoping other companies will join as people become familiar with the network.
In a statement, Patch CEO Warren St. John agreed with Bullock’s description of the need for this resource.
“Sourcing accurate town-level government data in an age of misinformation is a challenge for both citizens and reporters,” the statement read. “Patch’s integration with ClearGov provides both our users and our journalists with reliable and granular data about how local governments function and spend.”
The announcement of this network marks the latest development in ClearGov’s expansion in the government budgeting and accountability sector, competing with companies like OpenGov, Questica and Neubrain. After closing a $2.25 million seed funding round in June 2018, ClearGov released a new budgeting tool in October and a capital projects feature in March.