Why Is Transparency Critical in Local Government?

Lena Eisenstein

In this article, you will learn:

  • Why openness and accountability go hand-in-hand with transparency

  • How both internal and external communications improve with greater transparency

  • Why transparency is most effective with the right digital tools designed for local governments

Local citizens do their best to vet their political candidates to ensure they get public officials into office that are honest, have integrity, and will work for the best interests of the community. When the media comes forth with news about fraud in government, it's a huge letdown, especially when it happens in local government.

Secrecy creates an environment where there is the potential for the lack of accountability and abuse of power. When information about how a local government operates isn't forthcoming, it causes the public to be skeptical. Best practices for good governance recommend that transparency is a vital component of good government and strong communities.

One of the challenges in making local government transparent to any degree is tight budgets and a burden on limited resources.

Fortunately, technology has become a friend to local governments. Digital tools create an environment of openness, transparency, honesty, accuracy, accountability.

The Benefits of Openness, Transparency, and Accountability

Public officials with integrity are ever mindful of the fact that the money they have to spend on their communities comes directly from their citizens through tax dollars and that the government exists to serve them. Having access to these funds also means that citizens have the right to know how their local officials intend to allocate those funds. Good governance entails keeping the best interests of the citizens at the forefront of decision-making for the community. In a sense, the citizens act as overseers for their public officials and government staff.

The more a local government can provide in the way of transparency, the more it increases trust, honesty, and integrity in the government leaders.

Another area where local governments can improve the public's trust in them is by sharing policies publicly. That way the public knows how the government officials should be handling things and can hold them accountable for doing so. Code enforcement rules and requirements, board meeting minutes, council meeting minutes, financial documents, budgets, and annual reports should all be easily accessible by the public.

Integrity is inherently connected with trust. When citizens feel that their government officials are working hard to earn their trust, it builds confidence in the public's view of the government. For local governments to be proactive in transparency speaks volumes to their constituents. When the general public has questions, they need a place to get answers. The public expects details on how governments made their decisions. Local governments that initiate processes to provide the information that matters most to citizens proves that the government officials have their citizens' best interests at heart.

Transparency Enhances Communication

The benefit of providing as much information to the public as possible is that it gives them an opportunity to think about decisions that the local officials made and provide valuable feedback to them. The comments and feedback open up yet another opportunity for the all-important two-way communication. Local governments are continually looking at how to improve the quality of life for their citizens. The best decision-making is a result of multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of community members. Based on their comments, government officials can incorporate necessary changes. The value in two-way communication is that it shows that the local government is listening and responding to the community's needs.

People often forget that responsibility works both ways. The government needs to honest and transparent. The community has responsibilities as well. Citizens have a responsibility to be informed and hold their local governments accountable.

Technology Is the Key to Transparency

Advancements in technology have provided new ways for local governments to share information publicly in ways that are efficient, cost-effective, and fast. New digital tools make it drastically easier to store and manage documents and other information. Citizens are familiar enough with technology that they expect their governments to be current on how technology can make information more transparent and accountable.

Social media has become a staple in our society. Not only has it become important in our personal lives, it's important in business and local government too. It's often the most proficient way to share information. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provide outlets to share information proactively with the general public for announcing events, live-streaming government meetings, and communicating policy changes. In today's world, many people spend lots of their time on social media, and that means that social media is a great place to get information to them fast. Additionally, social media opens up a way for two-way communication. Local governments can post information in seconds and in a few more seconds get comments and feedback from citizens. These discussions provide rich communications that benefit both parties.

The first place that citizens will usually go when they want to get information about their community is their local government's website. It makes sense that this is the place that local governments should focus their attention on providing access to the information that citizens want most.

When citizens have access to a search box that brings up any public document, it saves clerks and other local government workers the time to pull it up and deliver it to the person who asked for it. Search boxes on a government website make it fast and easy for citizens to pull up government policies, the budget, financial information, forms, documents, and live-streaming videos for council meetings.

Having mobile access to documents and information is also a timesaver for local government officials. Mobile apps and devices bring information to elected officials to them wherever they are, any time of day or night.

One of the most efficient uses of technology is in document security and management. Local governments handle thousands of documents. Online storage and filing systems take the work out of manual paper filing systems.

Even if government staff were to locate documents that the public asked for, they'd still have to scan them, upload them, and email them. It's far more efficient to let citizens pull up the documents they want and print them in the convenience of their homes and offices.

iCompass offers all the tools that help local governments create transparency in local governments. From streamlining board meeting processes to document storage to communications and livestreaming local government meetings, iCompass meets your local government's needs right where they're at. Transparency in local government is critical for gaining the public's trust and there's no better company to help you achieve that than iCompass.
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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.