CLOSUP, along with its nonprofit partner XBRL US, has launched a project to modernize and digitize Michigan local government financial reporting, with the City of Flint as the first local government partner and pilot site. The partnership will design and implement a new open data standard, based on eXtensible Business Language Reporting (XBRL), that the City of Flint can use to share its financial information with the public, the State, and other stakeholders. XBRL is an international open standard for financial data already widely used in the public and private sectors in the U.S. and other countries. XBRL formatted financial statements are both human-readable and machine-readable, so that the underlying digital data can be easily searched, sorted, merged, compared, analyzed and put to use. The City of Flint is the first local partner and pilot location in the project, with the ultimate goal to implement the open data standard for all local governments in Michigan.
The fiscal health of local governments is critically important to the functioning of our democracy, economy, and quality of life. In turn, high-quality easily-accessible financial data are essential to promote fiscal health, as well as transparency and data-driven policymaking.
Currently, the most important local government financial data, found in Annual Comprehensive Financial Reports (ACFRs), are provided to the public and to the State in an outdated PDF format that severely limits their accessibility, comparability, and usefulness. Accessing these data requires transcribing hardcopy financial statements into other forms and databases by hand. This practice is labor-intensive and leads to delays, duplication of efforts, inaccuracies, and a lack of data consistency. These features stymy the sharing of understandings of what is happening on the ground in local units of government – leading to delays in responding to fiscal threats like those that put Flint, Detroit and Benton Harbor into emergency management. These outdated systems threaten fiscal management at both the state and local levels. Many local governments do not have the resources to “translate” these data into information that can be easily evaluated by local policymakers, managers, citizens or other stakeholders. Local governments must repeatedly re-enter the data by hand out of ACFRs and into numerous duplicative reporting systems, often leading to human error during data entry. In turn, outdated, unreliable and incomplete data limit the ability of external stakeholders, including the public/press, philanthropic and other nonprofits, economic developers, the federal and state governments, businesses, bondholders, and researchers, to understand local financial conditions and challenges.
This project ultimately is about improving a community’s quality of life, because as local fiscal information becomes more available, a greater number of stakeholders will have eyes on the data and be able to act on potential problems long before they turn into crisesThomas Ivacko, CLOSUP Executive Director