A model at your fingertips

Eric Morris is right when he says we could use more of these tools like this transport budget calculator from Kansas.

I think this format has a lot of promise for governments, and not just for departments of transportation. By presenting the information this way, the Kansas Department of Transportation reaches out to voters (particularly younger ones) who are accustomed to interactivity and immediate feedback from their information sources. I have a feeling that many people who would never think of sitting down and reading the state budget will warm to playing “transportation god” on this site.

Moreover, the site makes it clear that we can’t ask for everything from our government; tough budgetary choices have to be made. Perhaps users will come away with a bit more sympathy for the officials who strive to make us all happy while keeping the public purse from running dry.

Even better, the information exchange goes both ways. K.D.O.T. collects data about the preferences users express on the site to help set funding priorities.

I played around with it but, of course, found myself going to extremes that would have made the most effective transportation in Kansas being by a tornado that could take you to far off lands. But, in many respects, that is the point.

These calculators, of course, can be distorted by when goes on inside but I think with some transparency we could deal with that. And they don’t just apply to government decisions. I have remarked before on Melbourne airport’s — cars versus taxi versus other — calculator and the Victorian Essential Services Commission has an Energy Comparator to help you choose electricity retailers — although it fails because you have to enter the data yourself even though surely it must be readily available. But perhaps something along the lines of Chris Joye’s exercise yesterday for superannuation funds and their broad holdings might be a good start.

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