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City Reporting Templates: How To Ensure Transparency In Your Municipality
Putting everything online won’t increase transparency in your municipality—but putting the right information online will.
Fact: Your municipality will never be perfect at everything.
Fact: Local governments simply do not have the budget to be perfect at everything.
Fact: If a municipality can’t clearly explain where it’s at as a city, citizens will have a hard time trusting their local government.
All of these facts beg a simple question—what can a local government do to create an air of transparency while still demonstrating that they are moving forward?
One of the best things to do is to create a community dashboard.
A community dashboard shows citizens:
- How a municipality is doing.
- What the municipality is working toward.
- How the municipality is taking steps in the right direction.
There are three levels of detail (thus, three city reporting templates) you need in a community dashboard. Imagine this like a pyramid structure—the highest level is a summary, the middle level is broken up into sublevels which summarize each major city division, and the third level provides details for each individual measure.
The point of creating a community dashboard is to instill confidence in your citizens that you’re measuring the right things and are willing to fix problem areas. This doesn’t mean you’re hiding the issues within your municipality—quite the opposite, actually. Citizens are more concerned with whether you’re aware of these issues and that you’re taking action to solve them. For example, imagine that 70% of kids pass their standardized testing and 30% fail. As long as you can describe the strategy around bringing this number up, citizens will give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re moving in the right direction. In the same vein, if you have challenges with 5% of your roads, but you can demonstrate a plan, then it shows your citizens that you understand and are on top of the issue.
Let’s walk through each of these individual template pages. We’ve used Fort Collins, Colorado, as our template example.
Template #1: A Single-Page Summary Of Your Strategic Plan
This page visually demonstrates what’s important to your municipality. You can think of this as a high-level look at your city’s strategy. It should include about five key themes of your strategy and a RAG (red, amber, or green) status indicator. This landing page communicates the overall strategic plan to your citizen and then guides them to one of those sections. It’s very similar to an internal strategy map, but municipalities tend to be organized more by key divisions.
Some municipalities have a bare-bones summary page, while others are more graphically inclined. You may want to list an icon with every theme; finance may look like a dollar sign, parks and recreation may look like a bicycle, and safety may look like a fire helmet.
Template #2: A Mid-Layer Description Of Key Measures
Once a citizen has selected a summary area, they’re taken to a page that shows them a list of key goals, measures, and projects. On this mid-level page, they’d likely see a qualitative description of why this is a goal, what the city is trying to accomplish, and how it’s going along the way. This is typically updated at least semi-annually or quarterly.
For example, if you selected “Safe Community” on the first page, it would bring you here and would list 5-10 key measures around public safety. In essence, this layer offers a summary view of one area of focus, so the citizen can see what’s being measured specifically, what the targets and actuals look like, and what the RAG status is.
Template #3: Measure Details
This is the lowest level of the community dashboard. Once a citizen has selected one of the above key measures, they are able to drill down into the details. This page should show a bar chart with targets vs. actuals for 2-3 years of performance. Additionally, it should express what the measure is, why the municipality selected it, and what the city is doing to continue its performance. This section offers the most in-depth look at a single measure.
It is easy to think that being transparent means simply putting all of your information online. The reality is that citizens don’t want everything! It’s unfair to ask them to process loads of data and information. What they really want is organized, structured information that is easy for them to read and understand. If you can use the above city reporting templates to present information clearly, your citizens will begin to trust you more and more and see that your finger is on the pulse of the city.