We can all learn a lot about our own behavior by watching the actions of our peers. The same concept can be applied to municipalities. Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis tools allows the public to do exactly that, compare their town or city to others like it across the Commonwealth. The free online tool allows up to 25 peer municipalities to be generated based on an assortment of metrics (population, income, etc.) selected by the user. From there, the user can compare his or her own town’s financial and other data to towns like it.
For example, consider the Town of Weston. Using the metric of per capita income, MassAnalysis can identify the 25 towns most similar to Weston in terms of that measure. The user can also add up to nine other metrics to drill down deeper in identifying like communities using metrics like land area, size of stabilization fund or registered voters.
We can identify patterns in the town spending of Weston and its peers, by looking at the data. For instance, when honing in on school spending for Weston and its peers, the data reveals that these towns, the wealthiest in Massachusetts, spend an average of 51 percent of their annual expenditures on education. However, even among these 26 towns there is a diverse distribution of expenditures. Education expenditures range from 38 percent of total expenditures in Weston to 65 percent of total expenditures in Sudbury.
As Massachusetts enters town meeting season data about your town or city and others around you becomes invaluable. It is easier to understand your own community’s spending when you can compare it to other, similar communities, spending habits. Being able to contextualize your community’s own spending is the first step to holding local officials accountable for their spending decisions. It would be reasonable for someone from Sudbury to question how Weston can spend such a smaller percentage of its overall budget on education than Sudbury and still have quality results.
Civic engagement is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy and a high level of engagement is dependent on access to key data. MassAnalysis is the tool to provide just that.
The Author, Daniel O’Leary, is a co-op student from Northeastern University and works as a Research and Programs Assistant for Pioneer Institute.