A Simple Online Tool To Improve Local Government Transparency

If you’re looking to increase your transparency (and make sure your citizens notice), here’s where you should start.

Co-Founder & Code Geek


There are all kinds of ways to improve your local government transparency. Take social media, for example. Almost every social media tool is free—you just have to commit one team member to manage it and use it effectively! But while social media offers a platform to spread information and start conversations, you still need a method to assure your citizens that you’re addressing the problems your city has. Enter the community dashboard.

Below, we’re detailing what a community dashboard is, why it’s a simple tool to use, why it’s so vital to have, and more. Take a look.

What is a community dashboard?

A community dashboard allows you to display municipal metrics and provide explanations of what you’re doing to improve in areas that need it. It helps you determine whether you’re dropping the ball on municipal customer service, and it gives you an opportunity to tell your citizens that you hear them and you’re working on the changes they are eager to see. (To see an example of what each layer of a community dashboard may look like when you’re complete, take a look at this article.)

We highly suggest making sure your dashboard is available online—in an accessible and engaging format—so you get a competitive edge with current and potential citizens and businesses. Additionally, this provides you with the opportunity to become a leader in your space in terms of local government transparency and make an impact on the way other cities perceive your strategy. (Note: If you’re not ready to get your dashboard up yet, you can share PDFs of your strategy with “Coming Soon” notes on your website. This will increase transparency and create some interest around the dashboard itself.)

What makes it simple?

There are two primary methods used to showcase open government data: a community dashboard or an open data platform. We believe a community dashboard offers citizens a simplified way to understand the numbers and data in context and better understand the changes and trends over time, while an open data platform forces citizens to parse through huge data sets and draw their own conclusions.

For instance, New York City has over 1,600 data sets online—a staggering amount. But even a city with 300,000 citizens will likely have 500 data sets or more, and getting those data sets online isn’t simple at all. A community dashboard allows you to take only your high-level goals and metrics and publish them, which is far easier to get started and manage moving forward.

Why is it so vital to have?

The Pew Research center put together a study on Americans’ Views on Open Government Data, and found some fascinating things:

  • Only 7% of respondents said local governments share their data very effectively.
  • A mere 19% of all Americans (based on respondent results) could think of an example where the local government did a good job providing information to the public about data it collects.
  • 69% of respondents say that government data can improve the quality of government services.

This demonstrates that citizens want to see more data and that they want to see it in a helpful, digestible way—but they aren’t satisfied with what they’re seeing. Seven percent are saying that local governments aren’t handling transparency well and nearly 70% are saying that if they did handle it better, the quality of local government would improve. That’s definitely something to think about.

Is it effective?

Yes, having a dashboard is a great way to increase your transparency—but marketing the dashboard is an even better way. In other words, don’t just create it and allow it to sit around on your site. Hold events around it, tweet it out, publish a press release, and more. Do whatever you can to get the word out and get your citizens excited about it. If you publish a dashboard and no one knows it’s there, it’s not going to do any good or improve transparency.

Anything else I need to know?

We have one final piece of advice: Just get started! Don’t be afraid of the perfect dashboard or measures, as those will come over time. The statistics above prove that people are hungry for something that shows them that you’re getting started and taking steps in the right direction. From there, listen to citizen feedback to be sure you’re taking their thoughts into account, and you’ll be good to go.

A Simple Online Tool To Improve Local Government Transparency