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How Transparency Can Lead to Citizen Satisfaction
January 15, 2014 at 7:35 pm #181405
Growing up my dad (like most dads) was very invested in my athletics. He would shout advice during the games, get reprimanded from the coaches for being too close to the field, and the drive home was always a de-brief of everything I did right and wrong during the game. However, my dad cared most about my effort. If he could see I was trying to get better or make an adjustment, he was happy. He didn’t really care if I said I would try and definitely didn’t want to hear any excuses. He had to see the effort. Admittedly, the outcome was a close second. My dad wanted me to be the best and win.
The relationship between my dad and me is similar to governments and its citizens. As citizens, we want to see that government is actually working to improve our lives. That transparency and visualization is important to our understanding of what government actually does. According to a recent paper by Ryan W. Buell and Michael I. Norton of the Harvard Business School, that transparency may even improve public opinion and citizen satisfaction.
Partnering with Code for America, Buell and Norton studied information from the City of Boston’s Street Bump mobile app, which provides the city with real-time information on the condition of various roads. Service requests are sent to the Mayor’s Office and then visualized on Code for America’s Daily Brief website for people to see. In their experiment:
Boston-area residents interacted with a website that visualizes both service requests submitted by the public (e.g., potholes and broken streetlamps) and efforts by the City of Boston to address them. Some participants observed a count of new, open, and recently closed service requests, while others viewed these requests visualized on an interactive map that included details and images of the work being performed.
They found that residents who experienced this “operational transparency” in government- seeing first-hand what government is doing to fix the potholes- had more positive attitudes and greater support for government projects than those who didn’t have that transparency. It’s important to note that transparency doesn’t automatically result in more positive feelings. In a third version of the website, they included pins for all open requests, which meant a lot of pins on a map. Seeing this, people’s opinions were no higher (or lower) than if they saw no pins at all. (You can read the full paper here.)
These results aren’t necessarily surprising, but they do highlight the benefits of open data when it comes to government services. Like my dad, citizen satisfaction increases when people can see the effort and progress government is making to fix a given problem. However, if they look and don’t see effort or progress, it can mean unhappy citizens.
I encourage you to check out the full study here. It provides an interesting glimpse into what citizens care about and the value of open data, transparency and citizen engagement.
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