Public Records Perils – Transparency Lets You See the Solution

One positive effect of transparency in the public sector is that it gives city and county government an opportunity to assess current practices and make needed changes. Given the increase in public records requests and the scrutiny from the White House on down to the local level, there is no doubt constituents want more access to public records while government expectations increase.

To tackle this situation, let’s say that your government entity decided to use an enterprise content management (ECM) system to digitize records and now wants to:

  • Meet public record requests efficiently
  • Track formal requests
  • Implement these practices with a reduced staff

Here’s how you meet these goals:

Satisfy public requests fast and efficiently using ECM
Those of us who work in government know that we have divisions, departments and offices – with many different and often separate areas – that do the work every day. But to our constituents, we are just “the state,” “the county” or “the city,” and when they request public records they do not see the divisions we created behind the scenes. In fact, the documents they request are stored and maintained by many different staffs and offices, which presents difficulties in identifying, locating and assembling the documents that meet each request.

This is the problem with physical paper files – government pays to create, file and store documents and eventually destroys them. It’s time to digitize these records and eliminate the costs associated with paper documents to speed up and improve the tools at your disposal to retrieve and assemble public records.

With an ECM solution, digitizing records and storing them is shared by the entire government entity, which means searching in ONE place to find them. This is a big effort, but it has significant benefits in terms of long-term cost savings and efficiency in meeting the requests of our citizens. As we reassess seemingly everything in this climate of budget and staff reductions, the method of storing and retrieving public records needs analysis and fortunately, the answer has already been proven in government with ECM.

Track requests efficiently with automation
With pressure to complete requests within legal requirements and standards, tracking formal public records requests evolved from paper to spreadsheets. Manual systems were put in place to track when the request arrived, who’s compiling records, who’s requesting them, when they are due, etc. However, these manual methods can be eliminated – along with the extra work of logging entries – by letting workflow automation route requests, time their fulfillment, compile the documents into packets, redact confidential information and even send electronically to the requestor. Staff is notified of new requests and those in need of immediate attention. That way, deadlines are easily met without worrying about fines or other penalties for noncompliance.

Utilize self-service options for 24/7 constituent access
Now that your records are available in a digital format, you can utilize self-service options provided by an ECM solution. For more casual searches – things like board agendas and minutes, contracts and court documents – records can be made available through a search function on your website. With more formal requests made like those under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Sunshine Law, an electronic form on your website easily collects these requests, reducing phone calls to your staff while providing 24/7 options for requestors. Then, E-Forms automatically route through your review and fulfillment process with timers to ensure that no requests slip through the cracks and all needs are met within legal timeframes.

The neat thing about moving to digital records for transparency reasons is that it lets you see through the paper to support public records efficiently and conveniently while expanding the services you offer constituents. Now that’s getting more done with less!

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