Transparency and the city of the future

Mar 23 2015 by Lindsey Donato & Ed Nevins Print This Article

As technologies enhance and citizen expectations change, our cities are charged with evolving the way they do business. Citizens are becoming more active participants in city management, and they desire more information and progress reports regarding how their city operates. Increased connectivity, real-time analytics, and value chain collaboration are major concepts that have influenced this new way of operating. All are concepts that should be applied to your city to help revolutionize its culture by increasing transparency.

Use these following steps as a framework for how to design a transparent municipal environment in your city. By starting with the following four endeavors, your city will be well on its way towards achieving true transparency.

Improve the use of information

While many municipalities have programs designed to capture performance information and metrics, few succeed at providing anything more than basic reports. Raw data itself is meaningless without benchmarks, interpretation, and additional comparative measures. For the information to be truly useful, it must be leveraged to drive change and improve the processes for how work is done.

Your city should first, understand what systems, tools, and capabilities exist to capture work performance data, and second, create a mechanism to translate this data into valuable real-time information that can be used for decision making in your city.

Understand how effort relates to results

The data that is produced from any process or system can be overwhelming, and at times, un-manageable. A focus on quality is essential. It is imperative that you spend the time to convert your data into useful and meaningful information for your city. You may find it beneficial to undergo an assessment/study to understand what key performance indicators are most important to your city and its people.

Understand the service being delivered and then distinguish performance metrics that frame the successful delivery of that service. Track data in the areas where a city employee can directly impact the process flow, either through public interaction, interdepartmental handoff, or data entry. It is critical to collect information that relates effort to results. When this correlation is defined, standards can be developed to allocate the appropriate effort needed to improve results.

Create a central portal

Cities are rapidly creating interactive web portals to display their city goals and progress along with financial statements, budget information, and statistics. Citizens are no longer kept “in the dark” regarding the status of city goals, measures, and expenditures. Having a strong portal that maintains up-to-date information for your city demonstrates a position of honesty and clarity that begins at City Hall.

These new portals are providing citizens with a “snapshot” of how their local government is performing based on a variety of metrics. Effectively, city progress reports and web portals create a sense of trust, openness, and teamwork. Simply having an easily accessible portal provides citizens with knowledge and awareness, which is a foundational element for partnership. To strengthen the usefulness of the portal, you’ll also want to solicit citizen communications; ensure that your portal includes areas for users to contribute information, ask questions, and inquire.

Incorporate the citizens

The heart of transparency is trust and sharing. Providing your citizens with critical information about city operations and in turn achieving continuous growth and trust in your community. Making data readily available for consumption elicits access to government information and promotes the development of innovative solutions by engaging the citizenry. This allows them to contribute thoughts and ideas and creates a trust and partnership between city leaders, the people, and local businesses to collectively build a better city.

Encourage your citizens to feed into process improvement by asking them questions like: Are services being measured appropriately? Which areas call for improvement? How can the identified improvements be made?

To increase citizen participation, your city may adopt innovative incentives for citizen’s whose ideas end up being implemented (i.e., parking permits, beach passes, parks and recreation usage). Use your new city web portal as a channel for citizens to offer constant feedback and join the conversation on how to optimize the way they receive your services.

In closing

Cities of the future are not run solely by City Hall - citizens are now active participants in identifying and furthering initiatives, offering input, and helping the city develop a long-term plan for development. Creating an environment that is transparent and invites collaboration is the first step towards building a stronger, more united city. To encourage citizen participation and to build a citizen/city alliance, cities must utilize technology and communications to facilitate idea sharing and ongoing dialogue within and between city businesses, residents, people, and officials. This new, collaborative style of city government will soon become the norm for how cities “do business.”

About The Author

Lindsey Donato & Ed Nevins
Lindsey Donato & Ed Nevins

Lindsey Donato and Ed Nevins are senior consultants at BlumShapiro Consulting. Lindsey works with municipalities, school districts, and private businesses seeking to streamline operations and plan for the future. Ed focuses on management and systems consulting.