Massachusetts-based ClearGov a provider of local government transparency and benchmarking software has closed an initial seed funding round on $1.2 million. The round was led by Boston-based venture capital firms Kesha Partners and included MassVentures as well as several angel investors.
ClearGov was founded by Chris Bullock and Bryan Burdick as a municipal data comparison site. Initially, the founders were pulling public information out of annual reports and other sources to create public profiles on cities that offered budgetary and spending information with context. Since then, the service has evolved into a communications and benchmarking platform for local governments.
“When we started out, I was curious about where my property taxes were going,” Bullock explains in an interview with CivSource. “I have a finance background and I figured finding it would be pretty straightforward. Instead, I eventually found it 150 pages into an annual report, but there were several numbers and budget items that had terms I didn’t understand. The data was also presented without any context. I couldn’t readily compare what my city was spending verses peer cities.”
Rather than creating another open data portal that relies on and presents a lot of raw CSV data back to users and assumes a certain level of data science background, ClearGov presents budget data as an interactive infographic. Users can see what their local government is spending as presented within several big buckets like transportation or education. They can also compare their city to peer cities to see how spending matches up.
ClearGov started locally, creating profiles for municipalities throughout Massachusetts but has subsequently expanded to some 20,000 profiles spread across 20 states. The company creates profiles for municipalities even if they don’t yet have a government user behind them, pulling any and all publicly available data. Governments can then claim those pages and use them for a fee or create their own page if one isn’t made yet.
In addition to tracking granular spending data, government users can add commentary around particular items or sections of the budget to explain shared services, pilot projects, or changes in spending. Government users can use the communications feature as a brag board to boot. One profile CivSource reviewed highlighted how the city had been able to bring down the cost of employee benefits.
According to Bullock, with the financing round they plan to add sales and marketing staff as well as expand the number of government profiles. “We’ve been able to get a lot of attention and positive feedback with the communications features and benchmarking. Often, we go into meetings with governments and they tell us it takes days or weeks to do their own benchmarking. In some cases, cities don’t track this data at all.”
ClearGov Insights, the benchmarking tool allows cities to compare across a database of $1.8 trillion in expenditures, looking at both nearby and national peer cities. Bullock adds that the company is also working on a pipeline of additional features for later release.