~ 4 MIN READ
8 Ways Technology Can Improve Local Government Transparency
Cities, it’s time to innovate. These eight ideas will get you on track toward complete transparency.
If you’re reading this article, you might be wondering how you can engage the citizens in your municipality in such a technology-driven world. Is there some sort of local government transparency “code” to follow? That’s a great question! To answer it, we’ve identified eight of the most important technologies that can improve your local government’s transparency.
Now, you may already be doing something on this list—but our hope is that through this government transparency index, you’ll come across a new idea or suggestion that will help you take your municipality (and level of transparency) to the next level. Let’s take a look!
1. Online Citizen Engagement
Technology has made it easier than ever for citizens to participate in open discussions with municipal leaders. If a citizen is able to call in and ask the mayor a question online while that citizen is at home after hours for example, that will save them a great deal of time and effort.
There are a couple of technology solutions out there that make doing this easier. Open Town Hall from Peak Democracy, for example, offers several product offerings for municipalities to engage their citizens in this way.
2. Neighborhood Networks
Seattle, Washington, uses a program called My Neighborhood Map. It is an interactive map that allows citizens to find services, see construction or road blocks, look at 911 incident responses, and more.
Nextdoor is another unique network for transparency and citizen engagement. It brands itself as a private social network neighborhood and allows users to create accounts and post classifieds, participate in communication threads, look at crime watches, and more.
Promoting or using these services may get your citizens to be more involved in their communities and help your municipality stay on the leading edge of technology.
3. Online 311 Software
Citizens need a forum for immediately alerting their municipal government about potholes, power outages, or crime sprees. Back in the day, customer service “311” phone lines were used, but today, those services come in the form of software applications. Some of the top 311 software applications are:
All of these applications offer different features, but the idea behind them is roughly the same: If a citizen notices anything the city needs to know right away, they use the application to alert them. (Some services allow citizens to take a picture of the issue—like overgrown weeds in a park, for example—and submit it directly through an app.) Once the issue has been resolved, some applications will alert the citizen to let them know.
4. Social Media
Using social media—and Twitter, in particular—is incredibly important for improving local government transparency. A few months ago, we spoke with four city managers about their social media strategies. Be sure to read that article if you want to learn:
- How to get citizens to follow you.
- What kind of information you might want to post.
- How to respond to tweets directed at you, both positive and negative.
- What your posting frequency may look like.
- Advice for city managers or local government officials using Twitter to increase social interactions and transparency in local government.
Buffer and HootSuite can also be incredibly important for a communications department within a city that is trying to figure out the best ways to reach residents. Those apps allow you to set up and schedule tweets without any hassle or issues.
5. Balanced Scorecard & Reporting Software
There are loads of report generation software options on the market today. Each of them offer a unique niche in the market. (And we’re also pretty fond of our own balanced scorecard and dashboard software.) Municipalities can use this kind of software to create data-driven, visual reports that they can distribute across different channels for both internal use and citizen interaction and engagement.
Note: Being transparent doesn’t mean gathering all of your data from reporting software and dumping it online. This method of transparency asks a lot of your citizens! A better alternative is something we call strategic transparency—and you can learn more about it from this SlideShare.
6. Stat Programs
Stat programs are performance measurement tools that focus on data analysis. They have become increasingly popular among local governments and are known to help drive performance, success, and innovation. This can also be seen as an approach for managing rather than a particular technology. Several different companies can help you manage a Stat program at your city.
If you want to learn more about Stat programs in local government, we suggest looking at these two municipal examples:
7. Web Presence & User Interface
A lot of municipal websites are painfully outdated. Not only do the look and feel seem behind the times, but the user interface (UI) is often not well thought-out. You can see how this is problematic in terms of transparency; if a citizen has to spend excessive amounts of time parsing through their cities website to find what they’re looking for, they’ll feel as though the municipality has let them down. Citizens need to see that you’re making a concerted effort to put the information they want to see in a natural and easily accessible area of the web. (We recommend taking a look at Vision Internet and Civic Plus, two municipal-focused website providers.)
Note: Because so much of web browsing is done on a smartphone or a tablet, it’s imperative that your website is responsive. Your programmers or IT department should be able to help you integrate a web design that works on any kind of device.
8. Community Dashboard
Having a community dashboard is one important way your city can become more transparent. Your community dashboard provides your municipality with an opportunity to tell the story of how you’re executing on your strategic plan. This article walks you through the importance of community dashboards and why each aspect of a community dashboard can increase municipal transparency—so make sure you give it a read!
Keep This In Mind...
Cities are, for lack of a better word, “competing” against other cities for residents, businesses, tax dollars, state grants, and federal grants. Therefore, anything your municipality can do to create an edge is important! In the next 3-5 years, many of these things will simply become the norm. So, if you can adopt these ideas and technologies now, we’re confident you’ll be a leader in your area very quickly (and your citizens will notice).