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4 ways your government can be more open

March 13, 2013

Open and transparent government efforts can go a long way to improve community engagement and compliance with demands for access to meeting and budget-related information. As a citizen, it is important to know what your local council is already doing, and what it could be doing better. The general idea that government operations should be open to the scrutiny of the public isn't always a popular one with officials, but by pushing these four solutions, citizens can enforce the need for transparency and help their local council accomplish it.

Use standard formats
One key part of improving transparency and open government efforts that isn't as obvious as others is to use standard formats for information. Utilizing text document file types other than .doc could prevent some citizens form easily viewing content, while implementing non-standard formats for the content itself will slow down the overall process and make the data held within harder to understand.

Ensure easy to use and remember portals
The internet is a great resource for open government needs, but using hard to remember URLs or outdated technology to generate content could make it harder for citizens to access the information, even when it's out there. Just because the data is uploaded doesn't make it "open," and government offices need to remember to increase awareness of the information as well. Easy-to-remember URLs and common, universally supported tools that work equally well regardless of the viewers browser or device type will ensure that the open government portal is as effective as possible.

Maintain accountability
It is important for government officials to remember they are accountable to the public, but even more so for Joe Public to remind them. It is easy to forget the importance of open government needs if no one is asking for records or meeting minutes. By being more involved and testing the availability and accuracy of provided information, citizens can enforce transparency in their own ways as well.

Maintain standards
The federal government is pushing new standards of openness and transparency, and it is up to local governments to follow and maintain those standards. However, the public should be aware of them as well in order to keep track and bring any infringements to light. Being informed is just as important as pushing accountability.