Sugar, spices, eggs, measuring cup, mixing bowl, whisk.
The recipe list can be endless when making your favorite cake, and the details are incredibly important. Each step is as vital as the last, up until the oven temperature and baking time.
But what about the ingredients to an ideal financial report? Like a good recipe, a Citizen-Centric Report regarding an agency’s financial actions can help you gauge that organization’s performance, make better voting decisions, and avoid burning your financial cake.
Ann Ebberts, CEO for the Association of Government Accountants spoke with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about the best ways to present information to citizens and the importance of citizen-centric reporting.
The Importance of Citizen-Centric Reporting
The is an organization created for financial government professionals. It strives to present government financial information to citizens in a clear and understandable manner to enable the public to make better decisions. Their Citizen-Centric Government Reporting Initiative started with the intention of fostering better communication between governments and their citizens.
“We want our citizens to have the right kind of information to make decisions,” said Ebberts. “We want them to be supportive of what their governments are doing, and you can’t do that without having information about where [your] taxpayer dollars are going and what it’s being used for.”
With today’s overabundance of publicly available data, staying informed about your government’s actions can be an overwhelming task. An AGA Citizen-Centric Report aims to summarize and organize the government financial data in an easy-to-understand, nonpartisan document, thus ultimately bringing this information directly to the public.
“Financial statements are many, many, many pages long, and they’re very complex and hard to understand. And what the Citizen-Centric Report is is apolitical,” explained Ebberts. “It’s not trying to push what one party’s doing or another party. It’s basically the data, it’s the facts. And it’s publicly available data that you or I could sift through, do an awful lot of research to find, but we might have it out of context. We might not really know specifically what that data’s trying to tell us. So the Citizen-Centric Report really puts it in plain terms that anybody can understand. [It’s] kind of like the Reader’s digest of government.”
Constructing a Citizen-Centric Report
A Citizen-Centric Report is a four-page document comprised of specified sections about the financial actions of a particular agency. The first page discusses the mission, goals and strategic objectives of the particular agency as well as the overall organizational structure of the entity. The second page focuses on agency performance, such as the key measures and targets and what is being done with citizen funding and tax money. Page three is centered on monetary amounts, such as revenues and expenditures. This section of the report tracks where money is coming from in addition to its final destination. The third page shows whether or not the agency is managing money accurately and efficiently.
The fourth page of the report focuses on the economic outlook for the agency, including potential future challenges. This section is intended to answer all questions regarding any future financial actions of the agency and removing any mystery as to what is occurring within that agency. Ebberts emphasized the importance of the final section of the Citizen-Centric Report.
“What are the key initiatives and projects that are on the plate for that agency or government organization? How are they planning for the future?” she asked. “That’s where it impacts citizens. You know what’s coming next, what else is going to happen in their locality, or in support of the federal government. And it takes into consideration infrastructure improvements if there are tax increases that are going to be coming, and, then, what those tax increases will be used for.”
Keeping Track from the Inside Out
One of the greatest challenges to developing a Citizen-Centric Report is assessing and comparing performance measurements. Different administrations have different methods in terms of measuring performance, which makes cross-comparisons difficult. Also, political leanings and lack of citizen-centric efforts can also create differences among performance assessments.
“The strategic goals and objectives of every organization are just that,” said Ebberts. “There are some politicians that can put a political slant on it, but the strategic goals don’t change year by year, or with each political party. They’re there, and they’re in continuum.”
The flexible nature of Citizen-Centric Reports enables agencies to adapt the documents to specific agency needs. Ebberts explained how citizens can more closely follow an agency’s trends with greater citizen-centric reporting and how these reports are good for both internal and external use.
“You could update your Citizen-Centric Report on a yearly basis,” Ebberts said. “If there is an idea of a bar chart, for instance, that said how much money was being focused on education versus infrastructure and road and bridge building versus corrections and police force support, you could see that moving, or changing, from year to year as the focus changes. If the citizens want to get involved and say, ‘Hey, how come I have so many potholes on my roads?’ maybe the focus that year was really in improving education for their youth. People do have the right to vote, and they can raise their concerns that way. But at least with the Citizen-Centric Report they have a clear view and a consistent set of data from which to do that.”
For CCR tools, such as design guidelines and templates, visit the AGA’s Citizen-Centric Reporting Initiative website here.
Featured Image Attribution: Andreas Ivarsson