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# Civic Experience Platform

How To Increase Government Transparency

We’ve compiled a list of straightforward, actionable ways to increase local government transparency.

Authored by Civic Plus Logo


June 14, 2023
15 min

As a local government, you directly impact citizens’ lives through numerous services addressing crucial aspects of daily life. From safety and recreation to home improvements and civic participation, your municipality touches vast facets of your community members’ lives. Greater government transparency is essential to community members who want to see how their local government operates and where their tax-payer money is utilized. By law, residents and agencies can request information from the government on anything, from local crime reports to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) files on deceased public figures.

There are, however, restrictions on what data is eligible to be released under the Freedom of Information Act 1966 (FOIA). This reality is faced by the 70% of residents who believe accessible government data can enable community members to impact government affairs significantly. Furthermore, government transparency initiatives like FOIA have made officials more accountable, according to 76% of residents.

Transparency in Local Government Starts With Residents

Openness and transparency in local government start with listening to resident feedback — what your constituents have to say is critical to the democratic process. Hearing the concerns and needs of your community members helps foster trust and satisfaction in local government operations. How can you improve transparency and accountability in local government? Show your competence in the digital era. Use the information gathered from community members via online polls and surveys.

Utilizing an online agenda and meeting management portal with built-in analytics allows you to explore the issues, keywords, and topics residents enter into engine searches to obtain valuable insight into matters needing additional municipal focus, discussion, or external communications.

How To Improve Transparency in Local Government

Community members want openness and transparency in local government interactions. For decades, clerks have been an essential link between local government leaders and the people they serve. Over time, this role has evolved from handing out paper permit applications and assisting walk-in residents to digitally uploading city ordinances and meeting minutes to the municipal website. Some excellent ways to show community members your commitment to transparency and accountability in local government interactions include:

Open Budgets

Publishing detailed budgets that clearly explain how public funds are allocated and spent greatly raises public trust. By doing so, residents can understand where their tax dollars are used and hold the government accountable for financial decisions.

Public Disclosures

Government officials, particularly high-ranking ones, may be required to disclose their financial assets, conflicts of interest, and other relevant information. Government transparency in financial data helps prevent corruption and provides insight into potential conflicts that may influence decision-making.

Public Meetings and Hearings

Public meetings, consultations, and hearings on essential policy decisions allow residents to participate, express their views, and understand the decision-making process. Promoting political transparency ensures that government actions are accountable to the public.

Online Portals and Databases

Governments can create online platforms and databases to share information with the public, such as public spending, government contracts, legislative proposals, and regulatory actions. These platforms increase access to information and facilitate resident engagement.

Open Data Initiatives

Governments can release non-sensitive public data sets in easily accessible formats for public use. This data can include demographics, healthcare, education, transportation, and more information. Open data initiatives foster innovation, research, and analysis while enabling residents to understand better and evaluate government policies and services.

Go Virtual With Government Transparency

By promoting transparency, the government can improve resident interaction satisfaction. When social networks emerged, many municipalities hesitated to engage residents using public digital forums. Today, transparency in local government is more widely adopted, thanks to government technology that helps bridge the communication barrier between city hall and community members.

Live Streaming of Meetings

Local governments can use social media platforms to live stream public meetings, town halls, and other community gatherings. Community members want to be able to attend city halls virtually and see what their representatives are voting for and against. This pivot to online processes has boosted political transparency and resident engagement.  

If community members see elected officials supporting legislation that opposes what they ran on, this empowers residents to reconsider future voting decisions. Live streaming meetings and posting recorded videos to your municipal website allow busy residents to learn about local matters, engage in dialogue, and become informed on community issues when and where it fits their schedule.  

CivicPlus® has been conducting surveys of over 16,000 Americans since 2022. We aim to determine what factors most impact community members in fostering feelings of trust in their local government. Our team found that people who watch at least one city meeting per year are five times as likely to trust their local government, leading to higher satisfaction and confidence in their municipality leaders. This proves further how critical live-streaming meetings can be in your government transparency strategy.

Timely and Regular Updates

Transparency in government operations is heightened through social media platforms, providing real-time updates on government activities, policy changes, and community initiatives. Through regularly sharing information, local governments keep citizens informed about ongoing projects, decisions, and upcoming events.

Public Announcements

Social media platforms offer an accessible and immediate means to make public announcements. Local governments can use social media to share important news, emergency alerts, road closures, weather updates, and other time-sensitive information that impacts the community.

Sharing Documents and Reports

Municipal websites and social media platforms are excellent for sharing documents and reports with your residents. Publishing information online and linking to it on various social media channels can raise government transparency with the public. Sought-after information can include budgets, development plans, environmental assessments, meeting minutes, and other relevant materials. By making these documents easily accessible, local governments enhance transparency and enable citizens to review and understand government actions.

Q&A Sessions and Feedback Channels

Social media platforms provide an interactive space for local governments to increase political transparency while engaging with citizens and addressing their questions, concerns, and feedback. Hosting Q&A sessions, soliciting public input, and creating feedback channels via social media enable direct and transparent communication between government officials and the community.

The ability of social media to make local government more accessible positively impacts resident engagement rates. Commit to sharing content via social media by enabling social sharing and digital subscriptions. By promoting more frequent information transparency, your municipality can improve the community’s trust and the overall civic experience.

Final Advice

Local governments like yours carry out the vital task of providing essential services to their residents, from ensuring their safety and well-being to promoting recreational activities, facilitating home improvements, and improving civic engagement. To achieve a higher level of government transparency, maintain an open and honest dialogue with residents through forums and surveys, provide community members multiple avenues to participate in civic operations, and uphold their legal right to access information uncomplicatedly — like social media and a user-friendly municipal website.

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Authored by Civic Plus Logo


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