With roots as a student summer project, California Common Sense (www.cacs.org) has quickly developed into one of the nation's premier nonprofits devoted to high-quality data analysis and public outreach on policy issues.
The last eight months have been productive as CACS has:
- launched a model government data transparency portal
- drew attention to a massive political scandal (and resolved it with a significant victory for government transparency via a court-case)
- published the definitive reports on California’s pension crisis
- established a reputation as a credible data source and watchdog
- reached hundreds of thousands of Californians via online advertising, hits to the website, and references in thousands of newspaper articles along with television and radio shows
- In July, CACS launched California’s first-ever data transparency portal. The platform, which combines sophisticated analysis with stunning data visualization, stands as the most advanced platform for government data in the country. As a testament to the platform’s capabilities, new public policy organizations approach CACS on a weekly basis seeking to leverage CACS tools to cover other states and other datasets. Given the demand and the importance of conveying government data to the public, CACS plans to vastly expand the transparency portal over the next 12 months to encompass hundreds of thousands of local, state, and federal government datasets in both downloadable csv formats and interactive visual charts and dashboards.
- In August, CACS exposed a scandal in Sacramento, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the California Assembly. Until then, the Speaker of the Assembly had absolute control, slashing legislators’ budgets at will as punishment for undesirable votes. By showing how leadership manipulated legislative budgets, CACS empowered legislators to act according to their will without fear of monetary retribution from the Speaker. The report earned a spot for CACS in the discussion in Sacramento as a reliable government watchdog.
- In September, CACS added a first city to the data transparency portal, putting up detailed visualizations of San Francisco’s finances, beginning a paradigm for analyzing and presenting municipal finances throughout the state.
- In October, it shifted into the next gear. Core members of the team chose to work full-time instead of returning to school as we started raising new funding and put together a team of software engineers, researchers, and marketers to help expand our initial efforts into a full-fledged organization.
- In November, development of the civic engagement platform sped up drastically—a new way for citizens and elected officials to connect online in a forum based on data instead of political invective. CACS fostered relationships with politicians, signing them up for the platform.
- In December, CACS partnered with the Stanford Institute for Economics and Policy Research to publish the definitive report on California’s big three pension systems (largely providing data gathering and analysis help). With nationwide media attention, CACS helped moved the discussion around California’s pension problem in the right direction.
- In January, CACS launched the civic engagement platform. Up until that time, CACS had directly engaged over 20,000 Californians online on the website, and another 10,000 on the Facebook page. In the first week of the site re-launch alone, CACS reached 10,000 Californians and the plan is to reach many more in the coming months with further additions to the platform.
- In February, CACS published as the primary authors (with SIEPR again) groundbreaking research on local pension systems in California showing how rapidly pension costs are rising.
Now, a new leadership team has taken the reins in March and will plow ahead building a comprehensive government data warehouse for researchers across the country, writing a series of reports on long-term issues facing California, and launching new initiatives to educate even more citizens about government budgets and performance.