State governments all across the nation are struggling to find ways to restore their relationship with citizens on the grounds of accountability and trust. Many people have seen the drastic inefficiencies and lack of transparency within government and, in turn, the connection between taxpayers and government officials has suffered. With this dichotomy in mind, more and more governments are turning to modern, technologically advanced solutions to breathe new life into their relationship with citizens while also revealing new ways to enhance performance in government operations.
These concerns were the topic of a recent webinar discussion featuring Jenni Campana, Highway Communication Services Manager for the Nebraska Department of Transportation; Adam Stone, Director of Solution Training and Innovation at OpenGov; and Dave Swanson, Strategic Account Executive with OpenGov. In this blog post, we will cover a few highlights from the webinar. To see the full version of the on-demand webinar, please follow this link.
A “One-Stop-Shop” for Public Information
Kicking off the discussion, Jenni Campana explained that, as the holders of data records, her team would routinely receive many public information requests on transportation data. While her department would post a host of information, such as car crash statistics, on their website, this data was static, meaning that they would have to refresh these Web pages constantly with fresh information. Campana described how this frustrating and cumbersome task prompted her to look for a transparent platform to regularly update this information and adapt it into an approachable format for the public to digest.
Campana looked to OpenGov for a solution, and now she feels like her team has finally found an answer to their data problems. OpenGov has dramatically cut down on inefficient processes and tasks that would normally weigh down Campana and her colleagues. Using Nebraska’s daily fatality report as an example, she explained that every day at least seven people were tasked with updating the statistics on state roadway accidents. Now that they have OpenGov, Campana demonstrated that only one person is needed to update the data and refer people to the transparency portal.
Building Trust Amidst a Disaster
In March 2019, Nebraska experienced unprecedented flooding, and the public needed a place to turn to for updated information on a regular and consistent basis. The website that Campana’s team envisioned was very labor-intensive, and they did not have the time or capacity to build it quickly. Turning to OpenGov, Campana explained how they were able to leverage the portal to respond to information requests from both the public and the governor’s office in a timely manner. “It cannot be understated how helpful [OpenGov] was during the flooding in Nebraska,” she said.
Even after the flood, OpenGov allowed Campana and her team to illustrate the state of damage, as well as repair efforts and the cost associated with funding and reconstruction. This was important for a number of reasons, one of which being that people could easily see their tax dollars at work. Eventually, Campana said they were able to show public involvement and community celebrations on recovery efforts. Not only does the platform show up-to-date information to keep citizens engaged, Campana said it also makes it easy to embed photos, videos, and GIS mapping to make it a “phenomenal success.”
The Nebraska Department of Transportation has found several different use cases out of their partnership with OpenGov. Focusing on three specific benefits, Campana elaborated on the following ways OpenGov helped bring efficiency and transparency to her department:
- OpenGov has provided a way for her team to present vehicle fleet data as easily digestible information to be seen at a high level, showing how they should budget in the future for replacement vehicles and ones that need maintenance.
- Budget highlights have provided visibility into where they are spending and how. Whether it’s office supplies, advertising, or consulting costs, “It’s been very valuable to see this budget snapshot,” she affirmed.
- Campana’s department is able to have a high-level view of how each project performs within the bidding process. They are now able to understand why some bids are successful, as well as where other opportunities need more work on the issuing agency’s side to draw more competitive bids.
Tips on Public Engagement
Specifically addressing other fellow state agencies, Campana had a few key pieces of advice on reinvigorating citizen trust in the government. She formed the discussion around the notion that credibility is key for public involvement, adding the following tips on how to build this credibility:
- Be proactive.
- Know what you’re doing well enough so you can plan for it and communicate it well.
- Know your audience and understand what is the best way to reach them.
- Build your strategy well in advance so people feel informed and have buy-in.
- Know who your channels are so you can find the information you need and be as timely as possible.
- Be honest and transparent.
- Work hard to understand where the citizens are coming from.
- Communicate with terms that people understand without “talking down” to them.
- Accept both your successes and your failures.
- Educate the public as much as you can.
Optimizing Public Trust Through Useful Open Data
The conversation then shifted to the perspective of Adam Stone, who walked through the history of open data and how the focus has transformed from the first generation of open data to the second. The ultimate goal of the first generation was to empower civic hackers to use this information to make third-party application views of the data for community involvement. While the initial focus of this open data push was for transparency, the portals only resulted in user difficulties and stale information.
Stone continued, describing the focus of the second generation of open data, which was to provide information that was useful, usable, and working toward a public good. This new perspective on open data hoped to allow more room for collaboration and the sharing of data, while still respecting data integrity. He added that the new shift is about “quality over quantity, whereas before it was flipped.” People can now take action based on this information, as it has become easy to use and understand.
Closing the webinar, Stone demonstrated how open data can be applied practically, showing OpenGov’s open data portal. The largest contributor to the CKAN (Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network) community, OpenGov’s portal offers unique functionality codes so that everyone has access and is able to incorporate those codes into their own database. Designed to be user-friendly, the portal encourages users to view the underlying data within each “showcase,” and ultimately promotes upgraded performance mechanisms for everyone who can benefit from it. For more information on how to build credibility with stakeholders and enhance your government’s performance, and to hear the full discussion above, view the on-demand webinar.