~ 3 MIN READ
How To Be More Transparent With Citizens
If you’re not reporting on your municipality’s strategy plan, you’re missing the boat on transparency. Time to get on board.
In any municipality, there are going to be certain questions that every citizen is curious about.
- “Why do we need another 1% sales tax increase?”
- “Are we running on a budget surplus or deficit?”
- “Our motto is ‘The Safest City’—what are we doing to make our city safer?”
From taxes, to budgets, to city-wide goals, there are plenty of answers residents are searching for to better understand why local government officials are making certain decisions and how they’re allocating city funds.
With these information requests becoming more common, it’s very important that local governments share more data with their citizens, including strategic reports. In this article, we’ve dissected why sharing these reports is important, what they should include, and how to make them readily available.
Why Is It Important To Share Reports With Citizens?
More and more, citizens are looking for relevant, helpful information about how their local government is operating. Often, this information is shared in the form of a strategic or departmental report.
There are a million reasons why sharing these reports with the citizens in your municipality is a good idea, but in the end, it boils down to transparency. Locals are saying, “I’m a tax-paying member of this community—and I want to know where the money is going.” And these requests are both straightforward and fair.
But doing this doesn’t just give current city or town residents a helping hand; it’s also great information for individuals looking to relocate to the area. These documents help them understand how funds are being allocated, offers a better idea of what the community is like, provides more insight into whether local services are modern and competitive, and much more. In the end, those seeking this report just want to know that the fund pool they are contributing to is being managed wisely and appropriately.
What Should Be Reported On?
- Report on your strategic plan. This is simple if you have one in place, but if you don’t, it’s time to create one. Every municipality should have a strategic plan that is both clear and manageable. During the Transforming Local Government (TLG) conference this year, Chesterfield County gave a fantastic presentation on executing a strategic plan and handling challenges along the way. Check out our synopsis of their presentation and their takeaways.
- Report on the operations of every department. This aids in the “transparency factor,” because it allows citizens to understand which areas of the local government are excelling and which are falling short of expectations.
Keep in mind that reports should be both quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative reporting will answer questions like, “What is the crime rate?” or, “How fast is the fire and police response?” Qualitative reporting will answer, “The crime rate or fire and police response rate is X—what is the city doing to improve these results?”
2 Important Rules For Sharing Reports
1. Make the reports easily accessible.
With the advent of big data, citizens now have the expectation that data about their cities will be readily available. Not only is it easier for citizens to get hold of, but it shows a strong level of commitment to transparency.
- First and foremost, make sure that your reports are online. Hard copies that are only available through mail or in-person are a thing of the past.
- Be sure that your reports are in a clean, organized format—a simply designed PDF is usually the best format.
- Optimize your website so citizens can easily find the reports. A good user experience online is very important. Hiding your reports in a deep, dark corner of your website—a place that takes 15 clicks to get to—doesn’t convey transparency.
- Sharing your reports on social media is an excellent way to create interest in the reports and generate social sharing.
2. Be sure the information you’re releasing is relevant.
Residents don’t care about reports and data that are several years old—they want to know about what has happened recently, on a quarterly, semi-annual, and annual basis.
Keep in mind that the reports you publish will likely also be viewed by those at prospective businesses looking to move to your municipality, peers in nearby towns, those in municipalities across the country, and more. So, gear your strategic reports toward a broader audience so the information is relevant to anyone interested.
Sharing Is Caring
If you’re communicating clearly and openly about the questions that matter to your citizens, you will strengthen community ties and foster a culture of citizen involvement. Both getting out in front of requests for this information and immediately posting your reports on the appropriate channels for distribution show proactivity and transparency, and will be gestures well-received by your citizens.