City with financial overlays

In fiscal year 2017, 818,271 Freedom of Information Act requests were received by the Department of Justice. That was up from 597,415 in 2010. These numbers tell a clear story. Citizens want information, and they want transparency from the governments that serve them.

Local government agencies are certainly on the right track when it comes to transparency with citizens. A Gallup poll listed that 72% of U.S. adults have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in their local government. That is a good sign – it is at the local level where citizens engage the most with government. Agencies looking to keep the public’s trust should utilize the power of technology to help continue to keep their operations as transparent as possible.

Here are 3 best practices governments can implement to leverage technology to their advantage for more transparency with their citizens:

Best Practice #1: Apply the power of video

Humans have always been visually motivated, but technology has increased our appetite to near insatiable levels – YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. Local government agencies have been listening and have found ways to leverage the demand for video to increase transparency. Some examples include streaming government meetings and implementing body cameras for law enforcement. Video can be taken one step further by auto-transcribing government meetings and making the transcripts – easily searchable by words or phrases – available to the public.

Best Practice #2: Be upfront about smart city initiatives

Smart city initiatives are wonderful ways to modernize, increase efficiency and improve citizen experience. But the introduction of new tech can lead many to worry that the data these smart sensors are collecting can be used to surveil instead of to serve. Local government agencies should be open and receptive to feedback from citizens. They should inform citizens as to where smart city sensors will be located, what information they will be collecting and how the data will be used to improve quality of life.

Best Practice #3: Leverage data through intuitive reporting

Speaking of data – governments collect massive amounts of data, all day, every day, from everything about traffic flow and road conditions to tax information and water usage. That collected data is most often raw, vast and so incomprehensible, it very well could be considered hieroglyphics. To increase transparency, governments should seek to leverage the data through generating customizable reports. Agencies would then be able to present the data in a clear, easy-to-understand manner, allowing citizens to further achieve important city initiatives.

For example, Salt Lake City was attempting to fix its roads which, like many other roads throughout the country, were in poor shape from years of use. The city was able to gather the massive mountains of data they collected through its software to create intuitive reports that told a story. The city presented the data to their citizens who, with this clearer understanding of a crucial aspect of their community, were able to vote for initiatives to help fix the roads.

Ultimately at the end of the day, technology doesn’t build trust – people do. But technology can be an incredibly valuable tool to help further increase transparency between a government and its citizens. It can and should continue to be used to help local government agencies keep and earn their citizens’ trust.