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Improve access to public information through technology and transparency

Improve access to public information through technology and transparency

Access to information is necessary for effective discourse and accountable decision making by governments on the state, regional, and local levels. To guide important local decisions, stakeholders -- including residents and businesses -- need access to information about our region. However, existing public data may not always provide sufficient context for stakeholders to interpret or analyze the information.[1]  In addition, while data and analysis on state and local government appropriations and spending are crucial for understanding investments made in the region, such information is often not made available during budget approval processes.

 

Technology provides the best path to disseminate relevant data and information about the region and its communities to officials, community members, and other stakeholders. Improvements to technology can promote the use of best practices in transparency and help data management evolve. When scoping transparency efforts, it is important to consider who will actually use publicly accessible data and how users will use it.

 

Technology improvements will enhance local governments’ ability to increase their capacity and achieve their goals. The return on investment for adopting new technology will vary across the region, particularly in areas with lower capacity to utilize it, but could introduce opportunities for consolidating or sharing services.

 

The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.

Increase access to budget information and relevant analysis

 

Providing analysis and other information is important to improve the transparency of budgetary and legislative processes. The State of Illinois, as well as counties, municipalities, and other local governments, should improve upon currently available financial and budget information.[2]  The state and larger units of government with capacity to do so should provide greater access to such analysis throughout their budget processes -- along with policy and fiscal analysis of legislation -- to allow stakeholders to review and analyze the material.

Leverage technological improvements to improve efficiency, service quality, and transparency

Counties, transportation providers, and local governments often provide varying levels of data on services, infrastructure, taxes, public safety, traffic, and many other topics. In addition, CMAP provides some types of regional data through its data sharing hub, community data snapshots, and other tools. However, access to public information is often incomplete. New technology holds the potential to help local governments both improve their public services and provide for greater transparency.

 

Yet many local governments lack the resources necessary to improve their technological capabilities or utilize existing technology. And for some types of data, the existence of many disparate data sources is not useful to meeting the goals of providing that data in the first place. Aggregated data about the region’s communities could help with issues that rise above jurisdictional boundaries, such as businesses making development decisions or infrastructure investments.

 

Local governments should better leverage new technology, like mobile applications, reporting tools, and information systems, while continuing to modernize their processes as technology evolves.

Civic and professional organizations should convene local governments in the region to identify best practices around improving transparency and ensuring that public information is understandable and accessible.

Local governments that lack resources to obtain the newest technology should pool resources with other local governments.

CMAP should continue to provide and expand geographic information system (GIS) trainings and data analysis workshops to better support local government technical expertise.

Counties and COGs should consider create a data repository that houses data on their subregion’s communities as well as the subregion as a whole.

Counties and COGs should work with economic development agencies, stormwater agencies, and other users to ensure that the aggregated data has applicability across purposes.

Footnotes

[1] Government Finance Officers Association, Transparency: A Means to Improving Citizen Trust in Government, 2018, http://gfoa.org/sites/default/files/Transparency_April2018.pdf.

[2] For more information on best practices, see: Barrett, Katherine and Richard Greene, “Beyond the Basics: Best Practices in State Budget Transparency,” The Volcker Alliance December 2015, https://www.volckeralliance.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Beyond%20the%20Basics%20-%20The%20Volcker%20Alliance.pdf.




 
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