Going beyond open data - Public sector transparency

Distrust in public institutions continues to grow. As many cities and regions become smart through the production, use and analysis of data; transparency must be the cornerstone of a ‘smart’ community conversation.

Public sector transparency is sweeping the globe, and the benefits are far-reaching. With the onset of ‘outcomes-based budgets’ many reforms in state/territory and local government across Australia and New Zealand are pushing for financial transparency programs, as part of their smart initiatives. A focus on building (in some cases rebuilding) community trust as part of these transparency projects, is critical.

Trust is hard to win and easily lost, so how can a transparency program benefit your government? To help you to start the transparency conversation, we’ve listed six advantages:

1. Support difficult conversations

Public trust enables tough conversations. Leaders can empower the community and interest groups about budgetary trade-offs and decisions, perfromance challanges, promote tax changes, and advocate for ‘rainy day’ and infrastructure replacement reserves. By pointing the community to transparency sites full of compelling visualisations and annotations, governments can better engage their community.

For example, the City of Stanton, California, United States, recently passed a new tax to deliver better services. Stanton uses OpenGov to inform the public how the city spends the money to maintain support for the tax.


2. Provide context for media

Your government touches areas that rightly deserve public scrutiny through the media; public safety and infrastructure. Transparency sites with intuitive and interactive charts and tables give media the information they need to write accurate stories and the community the information to contextualize reports. The City of Darwin, Australia, is undertaking such a program with the OpenGov platform, providing detailed insight into the $10 Million investment for #smartdarwin.


3. Enterprise Barging Agreements

Labour negotiations are never simple. All organisations need to live within their means, while ensuring their workforce is appropriately renumerated. Discussions sometimes languish in requests for financial information and assumptions. You can solve this problem, helping both sides along the way.

Financial transparency initiatives that present current and historical data reduce the need to comb through budgets or query enterprise systems for data. The narratives on your transparency site explain the numbers so everyone can work from the same set of facts.

The City of Sausalito, California, United States, has used OpenGov to get all sides on the same page during labour negotiations and ensure a productive conversation. The Finance Director shared budgets and the city’s Long-Term Financial Plan on OpenGov, giving labour representatives easy access to and understanding of financial information. They also used OpenGov to share a personnel report broken down by the bargaining unit.


4. Engage and inform the business community

Businesses need critical infrastructure and stable policies. A well-designed transparency site helps communicate capital project budgets with current and potential businesses, showing how the government is investing in the communities future success.

Long-term financial plans and annual budgets share the government’s expectations for growth, economic development, and support for the business community, including expected tax policies. The City of Townsville, Queensland, Australia, is doing this, with the support of OpenGov.


5. Obtain better vendor prices

The State of Ohio, United States, powers its online chequebook with OpenGov. Many governments in the state load online transactions into a searchable public site. Local government leaders report using this information to see what other governments pay for services, giving them leverage in contract negotiations – knowledge is power. Governments can also foster price competition among vendors: public payment information lets vendors see what governments are paying competitors and investigate cheaper alternatives.


6. Privacy in context

Critical in the relationship with any given government is the trust placed by the community with their data. Transparency is a fundamental part of privacy (in fact, transparency of personal information handling practises is a crucial feature of privacy laws worldwide); they should coexist within all organisations. A well-defined transparency program can and should go way beyond financial data.

As our cities and regions become smart, and we make use of the data, privacy should be designed as part of the transparency program. The City of Darwin, Australia, is doing just that as it delivers one of the more significant smart city projects in Australia.