Incomprehensible data

Sacramento continues to stand out for its lack of transparency
Incomprehensible data
March 22, 2013
Foto: authors

Because of the lack of transparency of the legislative work in Sacramento, Californians are unable to easily access information that helps them understand important issues ranging from legislative bills to financial matters.

Two weeks ago, the Sunlight Foundation gave our state a D grade for its efforts to provide online access to data on bills and votes. Meanwhile, a California Forward analysis criticized the lack of clarity of the state—and local—government in providing information that is comprehensible for the average citizen. And finally, the Education Fund of consumer advocacy organization CalPIRG gave the state an F in part because the financial information available lacks the content necessary for Californians to closely monitor state spending.

This series of criticisms reflect the importance of not only putting information online—when this happens—but making it easy to find and, more important, for it to be intelligible. There is no point providing numbers and tables if there is not enough effort involved so that people need an accountant in order to understand them.

In 2011, Governor Brown closed the California Transparency website because of cost efficiency, and redistributed the information to other parts of the government. Without a doubt, it is a good idea to channel the information to make it easier to find and to work on it to make it more understandable.

It is unacceptable to ask voters to make budget decisions through ballot initiatives, while not providing them relevant information that is understandable to everyone.