How City Managers Can Increase Transparency With the Right Technology

Lena Eisenstein
City managers know that closing the gap between government and citizens brings communities closer together. They realize that this is important to help their community grow and thrive, while keeping crime rates at the lowest possible level. In many ways, technology has advanced to a point where we have less face-to-face contact with human beings. At the same time, technological advancements have created innovations that draw citizens and families closer together.

On the whole, municipalities need to invest more and more in core technologies every year to keep pace with their citizens and the surrounding communities. Technology offers city managers a host of options for digital solutions, including:
  • Security
  • Data centers
  • Networks
  • Board portals
  • Software products
City managers also have to prioritize and choose wisely between digital products, services and investments in IT staff because of tight budgeting concerns. Another consideration is how to offset some of the costs of technology with the newly created efficiency that comes as a byproduct of streamlined processes.

Large and Small Jurisdictions Are Opening Up Data Channels to the Public

California made the first splash into creating transparency when they opened up data for the public in the late 1960s with the passage of the Public Records Act. The Act requires municipalities to disclose government records to the public.

Technology has given us newer tools since then, which is causing an explosion for the cause of transparency in government. Technology makes it easy to offer information to the public, and the cost is reasonable enough to make it possible, even for municipalities that have tight budgets.

It wasn't long before other cities opened their data to the public. San Francisco opened their data in 2009, followed closely by the city of Chicago in 2010. And it really caught everyone's attention when New York City opened its data to the public in 2012.

As with any new product or service, prices come down after the introductory sales period. A Digital Cities Survey showed that the trend in opening up data for the public is growing in midsize jurisdictions. In Baltimore, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake placed a high priority on transparency, making it one of the major components of her administration.

Increased government data leads to better accountability and improved performance. Citizens become better informed and are better capable of discussing issues during public forums. Having a greater sense of their government's workings makes citizens more inclined to engage in topics that affect their community. Their feedback further informs public officials and other decision-makers, creating a win/win situation.

Technology Offers New Ways for Citizens to Engage With their Government

Technology offers countless ways for city managers to engage their citizens. Citizens are looking for information about their government on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, YouTube, Instagram and other platforms. City managers can utilize online marketing platforms, online survey programs and mobile apps to bring citizens up to date on the latest government information. Interacting with citizens in new and innovative ways enhances the public's trust.

It's now possible for city managers to create online forums where residents can give proposals or ideas a thumb's up or a thumb's down. They can create a designated email address where citizens can report non-emergency, non-life-threatening incidents. Citizens can even attach photos and other documents to support their report.

One of the things that city managers have not given enough thought to is updating their websites. Citizens are more likely to surf the net for information than to call or visit their local government office. Citizens expect to see updated websites that reflect the current times and the latest happenings in their neighborhood. Today's municipal websites should be responsive, user-friendly, and easy to navigate on a laptop or mobile device.

Innovative Software Solutions for Governments

iCompass, a Diligent brand, knows that city managers need to get the maximum benefit from their investment in technology products and services. That's why we designed solutions with the unique needs of governments and their citizens in mind.

Transparency Portal

iCompass, a Diligent brand, can create a portal with citizen access that attaches seamlessly to your municipality's website. We can create a portal that has the same look, feel and branding as your current website. The Transparency Portal is also where citizens can go to pull up copies of the board's agenda, meeting minutes, and audio or video recordings. The Transparency Portal will save your staff hours of time because it allows citizens to retrieve published documents from FOI requests simply by doing an online search.

Video Manager HD

Your citizens will certainly appreciate Video Manager HD, where they can watch livestreaming videos of board meetings online in real time or catch the recorded versions on their YouTube channel later. They can also split their screen, so they can view the agenda and the video of the meeting simultaneously. Clerks can add titles and timestamps to the video and the minutes, so citizens can access the parts of the meetings they're interested in quickly.

Board Manager

The Board Manager tool allows citizens to apply for vacant positions on your boards, commissions or councils. They can also check back periodically to see the progress of their application. Staff can set up email templates for automatic correspondence with citizens to track and approve new board applicants. Board Manager does even more to help staff. The program integrates with other solutions to automatically update roll calls, agendas and minutes. Staff can also set the program to alert them of upcoming board vacancies, so they can be more proactive.

Technology will continue to develop products and services that will help city managers deliver services, increase production and streamline operations. Creating transparency and citizen engagement are the efforts that make your government more attractive for funds, state grants and federal grants. The strongest leaders will adopt technologies that create transparency and accountability now, giving their municipalities the edge over surrounding communities.
Related Insights
Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.