The Waarstaatjegemeente.nl ('Where Your Municipality Stands') portal provides statistical facts as well as subjective performance indicators to municipal policymakers.
The tagline of the portal reads "compare, wonder, and improve". Policymakers can use the portal to benchmark the performance of their municipalities. Results that differ significantly from the average can be investigated in more detail, for example by drilling down into the underlying data.
The portal allows the outcomes of policy interventions to be tracked over time. Using the figures on the site as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) gives policymakers a mechanism for feedback on their adjustments.
The history of Waarstaatjegemeente.nl starts in 2005 with the launch of the site 'De Staat van de Gemeente' ('The State of the Municipality'). This portal was developed on behalf of the Dutch Association of Municipal Secretaries ('Vereniging van Gemeentesecretarissen', VGS). It made municipal performance metrics available to public servants as well as citizens.
The information was collected by having citizens fill out a questionnaire that measured the municipality's performance in six policy areas. Eleven municipalities participated in the first pilot. Since the official launch ten years ago, more than 240 municipalities have used the benchmarking tool, which has now become the 'Burgerpeiling Beleidsthema's' (Citizen's Measurement Policy Themes).
Parallel to the development of 'The State of the Municipality', the Dutch Association of Municipalities (Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeenten, VNG) worked on a related project. 'Wat doet je gemeente' [watdoetjegemeente.nl] ('What's Your Municipality Doing?') made available the actual performance indicators rather than the subjective performance perceived by citizens. At its introduction in January 2006, performance statistics for 44 municipalities were made available for comparison. As the name suggests, the functionality of this portal is related to the 'What's Hengelo Doing?' project we recently described here.
In 2008, the two complementary benchmarks of 'The State of the Municipality' and 'What's Your Municipality Doing?' were combined into a joint portal called Waarstaatjegemeente.nl ('Where Your Municipality Stands'). The site was refreshed last year, and now presents all its information and tools in a dashboard interface that improves the accessibility and usability of the portal.
KING, the IT branch of VNG, is responsible for the development and maintenance of the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' platform.
Previously, the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' site was mainly a collection centre for municipal data, says Korald Postuma from KING.
With the introduction of the new portal, the focus has shifted from statistics and facts to analysis and benchmarking. Specifically, the 'Citizen's Measurements' are what differentiates this platform from the information and tools provided by Statistics Netherlands [Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS]. In addition, the historical data allows us to identify trends, which we describe in our reports. We have, for example, ten years of data on criminality that we can use.
The new portal consists of four layers: the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' environment, the dashboard, the reports section, and the database.
Visitors can compare municipalities with each other, with their peers, with provinces, and with the national data; they can read the reports we publish on specific topics on a regular base; and they can download the complete database as open data if they want to do their own research.
Now that we have the platform in order, we can build new applications on top of this foundation, Postuma continues.
However, municipalities must take the lead here; they will have to come up with new ideas on how to exploit and integrate this service into their operations. Generally, if a municipality has a good idea, we run a pilot and then try to have the application used at national scale.
The Municipality of Etten-Leur, for example, now publishes relevant figures from our portal with the discussion documents for the council meetings. That way, the policymakers have the numbers right in front of them. It would be great if the dashboard could be used interactively in these meetings. I think the domain-based entrance provides a good option to do this.
The factual data underlying the municipalities' performance metrics is partly obtained from central government agencies that already collect this information as part of their own mandate.
Most of it is made publicly available by these institutions anyway, says Postuma. The website lists about two dozen so-called data partners, such as Statistics Netherlands, 'Atlas voor gemeenten' (which carries out research on districts, municipalities and regions in the Netherlands), Kadaster (the Dutch land registry), the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, and several ministries. They are the source of about 80 percent of the information that is available on the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' portal.
In addition, Dutch municipalities are asked to provide complementary information that is not available through a central agency. This specifically concerns the social domain, which was recently decentralised in the Netherlands, and other local affairs like oversight, local business activity, and the Citizen's Measurements.
Even though Dutch municipalities have autonomy in these areas, almost half of them contribute additional information to the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' platform, and this fraction is growing quickly. The municipalities have their own entrance to upload this data to the portal. According to Postuma, it takes time for municipalities to get their systems and processes in order.
To help municipalities collect and submit this information, the portal provides several domain-specific tools:
The tagline of the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' portal reads "compare, wonder, and improve". Policymakers can use the portal to benchmark the performance of their municipalities. Results that standout from the average may be investigated further, for example by drilling down into the underlying data.
The outcomes of policy interventions can be tracked over time. Using the figures on the site as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) gives policymakers a mechanism for feedback on their adjustments.
The primary goal of the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' portal is to provide municipal policymakers with the external view seen by citizens and businesses.
We aim to bring the outside perspective in, says Hidde Boonstra from KING.
At the same time, municipalities are public agencies; they exist to serve society. That implies that they should justify their decisions to society, and present society with the choices they have to make.
Since all the information and functionality provided by the site is publicly available, in addition to its primary goal of providing municipal policymakers with benchmarking information, the portal at the same provides transparency and accountability to Dutch citizens.
According to Boonstra, the transparency aspect of this platform may have scared municipalities at first. Citizens can now compare the performance of their own municipalities to others and see whether or not objectives are being met.
That attitude has changed now. Municipalities are less scared than before to engage with their citizens.
A good example is the 'lokale lastenmeter' ('municipal charges meter'), developed by the audit office of the City of Nijmegen. This portal shows how much citizens and businesses pay to the local government, and how it is spent. Council members have their own interface that they can use to calculate how changes in policies affect various groups of citizens. Now that seven other municipalities have joined this initiative, results from one municipality can also be compared to those of others.
Last year, the 'municipal charges meter' won the Goudvink award, an encouragement prize given annually by the Dutch Association of Audit Offices and Commissions (Nederlandse Vereniging van Rekenkamers & Rekenkamercommissies, NVRR) for the best audit report of its members.
The information aggregated through the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' platform is also used to create spin-offs. One is 'De Staat van de Gemeenten 2015' ('The State of the Municipalities'), a book published by VNG last year, describing current trends and issues in the social domain. The plan is to publish an up-to-date edition every year.
Another spin-off is the 'Stapelingsmonitor' ('Accumulation Monitor'). This shows at district level how many families are making use of more than one social security service. The accumulated use of these services provides insight into multiple, combined problems. This information can be used by municipalities to develop policies to mitigate specific issues in specific districts, measure their effects, and adjust their interventions as necessary.
The 'Accumulation Monitor' takes its data from 31 social security services. It is published annually in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands.
Currently, eight people are working on the 'where Your Municipality Stands' platform. Boonstra estimates the total cost at 300-400 thousand Euro per year, depending on which activities are taken into account.
Last year we invested more because of the implementation of the dashboard.
Although academics have not yet contacted anyone from the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' project to use the data for further research, several consulting agencies have shown an interest. According to Postuma, they specifically asked for an Application Programming Interface (API). Such a digital entrance to the system is currently being implemented and will make it more of an open data platform.
According to Boonstra, similar initiatives are being developed in other countries. South Africa already has a site like this, and Turkey is interested in implementing one. The software for the 'Where Your Municipality Stands' platform, however, is developed by a private company and not available as open source.