3 Tips for a Stronger Transparency Initiative

July 7, 2017 – OpenGov

It is safe to say enhancing transparency has become a critical aspect of successful municipal outcomes – both regarding public engagement and internal operations. As U.S. PIRG points out, governments continue to make transparency upgrades that improve the public’s ability to monitor how governments handle their resources. Noted advances include providing checkbook-level data, providing programs’ projected and actual benefits to the public, allowing bulk data downloads, and expanding centralized data to include more information on public-private partnerships.

Every locality or agency is capable of tapping into cost-effective, innovative solutions to achieve increased transparency and, in turn, success. You can strengthen your organization’s own transparency initiative substantially by following these three tips.

1. Provide information on demand through a cloud-based solution.

An effective transparency site is comprehensive, providing current, detailed, searchable information on demand. Cloud-based platforms should be part of your solution, as they provide access to your data for anyone at any time, regardless of location.

Beyond instant information accessibility, cloud-based platforms offer significant cost savings over stand-alone sites and provide security services that eliminate the need for on-site data backups and antivirus updates. Additionally, cloud-based providers handle system, storage, and software updates, freeing up your IT staff’s time for more strategic uses. To save additional time, transparency solutions that can integrate directly with existing financial management systems reduce data maintenance requirements.

All told, cloud technology makes up-to-date, centralized data available on-demand in an efficient, cost-effective manner, while bringing context and meaning to the numbers.

2. Anticipate and answer frequently-asked questions on a landing page.

Citizen engagement is at the core of public trust in local government. Addressing the most frequently asked questions up front strengthens trust within a community and facilitates the spread of accurate information. The most successful data portals often have a “landing page” that familiarizes users with the portal’s capabilities. Such pages can and should include answers to common questions as well as navigation tips, answering the “Where can I find…” questions without requiring staff attention.

Save valuable staff time spent responding to (often redundant) requests for information by building a set of “saved views” that simultaneously address related questions at any level of detail, from transactional up to high-level trend data. Rather than manually filtering data for each common query as it comes in, bookmark views to provide instantaneous access to answers. For example, saved views can point citizens to a breakdown of police responses by incident type, or show how building permit trends have evolved over time.

You should arrange saved views in common-sense categories and offer user-friendly graphs or visualizations. Providing transactional-level data along with historical analysis will effectively illustrate your unique story of program effect and budget impact.

Saved queries, along with a platform’s ability to allow users to sort, analyze, search, and annotate data, also allow staff to respond to Council questions in real-time, as well as to proactively source journalists’ stories with accurate data and accompanying context.

3. Make your site useful to staff.

As noted above, technology saves staff resources by virtually eliminating time-consuming data and security updates. Quick access to centralized data not only helps citizens understand their government, but it also saves valuable staff time with fewer personnel hours spent responding to onerous or redundant requests for information internally.

Effective transparency solutions also facilitate increased staff collaboration before, during, and after budget development. Access to real-time, accurate financial information enhances manager and staff confidence and facilitates better decision-making. The right technology will empower department heads and their teams to create customized reports independently and interact with current and historical information that enables data-driven decision-making.

Organizations of all sizes are improving external and internal effectiveness and outcomes through increased transparency. Dive deeper into practical approaches and real-world solutions by downloading a free copy of the Administrator’s Guide to Financial Transparency.