Sunshine Week: 3 Ways to Promote Government Transparency

Sunshine Week is a national initiative promoting public dialog about the importance of government transparency and freedom of information. The American Society of News Editors established this weeklong initiative in 2005, choosing mid-March because it coincides with President James Madison’s birthday. The Founding Father was a key proponent of the U.S. Bill of Rights and a champion of government checks and balances.

Government transparency is an important part of democracy, which is what Sunshine Week aims to celebrate and protect. The public’s right to know creates accountability for organizations and keeps citizens informed about how their government is operating. To celebrate, media outlets, government agencies, universities, nonprofits, civic organizations, libraries, archivists, and individuals participate by uniting to promote access to public information.

Today, government organizations are under increasing pressure to provide convenience and access of services to its citizenry. While meeting these heightened citizen expectations can seem daunting, governments should seize the opportunity to innovate and scale services quickly by optimizing citizen services.

Here are three strategies to boost transparency and enhance the citizen experience:

1.    Create a public document portal

The ultimate solution to a backlog of public records request is a self-service model. Government organizations can post select documents online, which allows citizens easy and quick access to commonly sought information on-demand.

Government organizations can deploy a public document portal for citizens and media groups seeking information about proposals that are public information. By letting citizens locate documents themselves, government staff can reclaim time and resources to focus on priorities at hand.

2.    Integrate with other applications to improve information usability

Posting documents online is a great step toward promoting transparency, however, governments can use additional tools to create a more user-friendly experience for citizens. By integrating technologies like GIS, CRM and ERP, government organizations make it even easier for citizens to find and use public information and services.

For example, attaching land use documents and permits to a mapping application can help businesses and land-owners easily locate the information relevant to their parcel of interest. Citizens don’t always know the parcel number they should be searching for when locating documents, but they will be able to locate the area on a map, and click on the parcel to pull up the relevant documents.

3.    Transform Public Records Requests

Governments will still need to fulfill requests for documents that aren’t available online, but digitally transforming this process can help organizations comply with public records legislation. For example, many public records laws (often called freedom of information acts or laws) set strict timelines for responding to citizen requests. With this in mind, governments should consider an information management system that can receive requests online, track their progress with visual dashboards, and deliver results that greatly reduce the burden on internal staff.

So, when a citizen files a request, the system immediately notifies the responding department. Upon receipt of the request by the responding department, the system can notify the citizen stating that the request has been received and will be responded to within a given time period. This helps government organizations maintain compliance with public records mandates while expediting the process of fulfilling requests using automated workflows.

Beyond this, it is important for government organizations to continue to identify inefficiencies and track improvement over time through analytics and reporting tools. By using the right systems to transform the public records request process, secure and reliable data can be made available at one’s fingertips, helping government make more informed decisions and increase transparency throughout the organization.

Ryan Park is the Senior Software Marketing Specialist at Laserfiche. In his role, Ryan focuses on supporting the state and local government user community, researching trending topics in the industry, and developing strategies for process optimization initiatives. He has led projects and spoken on topics surrounding citizen engagement, digital transformation, change management, and transparency. He also contributes thought leadership articles and blog posts. Park holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Southern California and received his master’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Long Beach.

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Daniel Bevarly

Excellent recommendations. I would like to add the importance for executive branch agencies to instill professional standards and develop best practices around FOI administration and responsibilities. While following state open government laws and policies, there is an economic benefit that can be realized by agencies in addition to political benefits surrounding openness, transparency and accountability.

It is a challenging task to manage public records, data and proceedings in order to report them to the public being served. However, the challenges are not going away and each day, more and more content is generated within public institutions that is governed by open government laws. There are no shortcuts, but there is better management techniques. The use of technology especially around online public record portals can be effective and generate important metrics. However, the technology is only as good as the people managing it. Training and education is critical. Happy Sunshine Week

Avatar photo Blake Martin

Seconding Daniel, these are great suggestions. Sunshine Week is new to me but I am very pleased that there is yet another reminder for agencies to promote transparency and keep this in mind over the long-term.

Uyen Nguyen

These are great tips, Ryan! They are very feasible. I think HHS’ Administration of Children and Families is a great example of an agency that has succeeded in implementing tips 1 and 3 – they post documents online in their “e-reading room,” and allow users to use a portal called the Public Access Link to submit FOIA requests online. (.https://www.acf.hhs.gov/foia)