Around the Studio: Continuing Efforts in Open Government

by Emily Twaddell

You may remember our work with the Town of Arlington to produce the award-winning Arlington Visual Budget, an open source web application that creates an easier way to communicate complex municipal financial information. The app has been well-recieved here in Arlington and is being explored by other communities as far away as Asheville, North Carolina.

Last summer, working with the code from Arlington Visual Budget (AVB), volunteers from Code for Asheville and the City of Asheville collaborated in an experiment in civic engagement and open government. They were motivated by the same principles that drove the work on AVB, wanting to contribute to “the conversation within the Asheville community and between the community and the government which serves it." 

First Steps


Initially the AVLBudget app closely resembled the first release of Arlington Visual Budget. It was based on the AVB code, which the Asheville developers had come across via Code for America.

Engineer Eric Jackson of DemocracyApps recently spoke with Invo developer Craig McGinley about his work on the Asheville project. He explained that they streamlined and changed the design of the AVB, adding new features like a “What’s New” section, which displays recent budget changes, and a Resources section that includes “gory details” such as descriptions of the budget and organizational structure. Prominent buttons saying “How do I get involved?” and “Let me contribute to the conversation” encourage and facilitate citizen engagement.

Making it Asheville’s Own


The current iteration of the Asheville, NC City Budget app.

According to Eric Jackson, this project and others like it don’t just passively present data to citizens. They give more than answers—they prompt and encourage questions and individual involvement in local government. By connecting open data to people’s lives, such efforts enable citizens to learn, both from data they see and from data that is missing. Like the Arlington Visual Budget project, the Asheville team intends to expand government transparency app use and development. And, like Involution Studios and the Town of Arlington, the City of Asheville will continue to work with their technical team to update and improve these innovative open government tools.


Topics: Design, Open Government, infovis, open data