The topics of open government and transparency have dominated conversation at recent city and county meetings. Like most buzzwords, elected officials and policy thinkers talk about it, but county and city staffs have to figure out how to do it – all while performing the usual tasks of everyday government.
One lucky break for these topics is that there is technology that can meet the open government and transparency policy directions and make government more efficient. And it does this while laying the groundwork for self-service options that will dominate government in the future of smartphones, websites and tablets (or whatever is next).
So, what is this key technology that cities and counties need to support their open government and transparency needs? Document management.
Document management is at the core of managing your agenda and minutes creation, distribution and meeting portal goals – and it uses three key components to accomplish this:
1. It has a document repository.
The legislative process is dominated by documents, agenda items, contracts, reports and other supporting materials that form the core of your agenda packets. Later, these same documents are the history of your decisions and they should be easy for you and your constituents to retrieve and consult. They should also be safe from natural disasters, fire and other destructive forces. Using document management means that you have safe, permanent, electronic storage of all of these documents.
2. It has workflow.
Of course, you have workflow too. But you need to automate your processes and set timers on them as well. Using document management and workflow, you can ensure that all reviewers see an item before it gets included on an agenda – which is important if you need legal or fiscal review. You can also time the review of an item so that reviewers are reminded that it needs to be looked at or that the item must be reviewed immediately or you will miss your posting deadline.
Workflow can also automate the creation of agenda packets and minutes and can publish those to council, to staff and even to your website with just one click. The packets can use your current template, be paginated, include or exclude confidential documents and even begin to build themselves during your meeting as you note motions and decisions. The key to improving your efficiency is the automation of document management workflow.
3. It can power your citizen portal.
Several cities and counties have re-built their websites to provide a convenient, 24/7 destination for constituents that want to be informed about their community’s decisions and policy-making. Since so many ideas and decisions in your community get their start in documents, it makes sense to connect the portal to a document repository. That would allow the process and the publication to happen automatically with video and audio linked to the agenda, the minutes and the supporting documents that your legislative body used to make their decision. A portal is a powerful tool to serve up each of these and to do it in the form of a 24/7 website will become increasingly important as the constituents who grew up on smartphones settle in your community.
As you consider the intersection of great technologies like document management with your legislative process, consider that in the technology world, document management and workflow are foundational, like your legislative body. Together they can be a powerful force for citizen engagement and transparency. And the greatest part? Together, they make your government better.