Chapter 1: Foster Transparency and Trust
Using data to measure progress on key city goals and sharing it broadly are all great steps toward transparency; however, truly engaging the public involves drawing them into conversations about the data and evidence. Cities can start these conversations by providing context for their released information, encouraging residents to ask questions and request datasets, and allowing residents to interact with the numbers. This can be a bold step, because the public may react to the data by challenging it, pointing out flaws, or requesting even more information. Although this can be daunting, it can also be the beginning of a very valuable conversation. The key is to ensure leadership stands behind the decision to release the data and someone is responsible for responding to the public feedback in a timely manner.
Chattanooga, TN, developed a collaboration among the City, the Chattanooga Public Library, and its Code for America Brigade, which the city calls Open Chattanooga. Open Chattanooga uses Facebook and Twitter to solicit input and share information, a public Trello board to track projects and tasks, and a mailing list to keep people informed of its work. (Trello is a web-based organizational tool that enables users to track tasks, comments, and to-dos on boards.) Open Chattanooga also hosts monthly meetings to inform the public of what it is working on, organize civic projects, and encourage participation. These monthly “hack nights” have brought about a visualization of crime data (ChattCrimes), a bike parking locator, and Chattanooga as a Minecraft World (Voxel Chattanooga). (Minecraft is an open world game that allows users to build and break down structures created out of blocks.) By bringing together this group of organizations, Open Chattanooga is demonstrating a united front in the city’s quest for open, transparent government and signaling to community members that the city welcomes their involvement in the process.
The Chief Data Officer of Philadelphia, PA, actively hosts and curates a discussion board on GitHub and a Google Groups forum focused on open data and government transparency. (GitHub is a website that stores versions of projects and tracks changes to these projects in Git.) The city shares its open data progress (i.e., updates to datasets, liberation of new datasets, etc.) for public review and comment, quickly responding to questions and participating in the conversation. Philadelphia’s prioritization matrix, mapping the release of data based on cost-complexity and demand-impact, came out of this conversation. This matrix enabled the city to justify its plan for data release and ensure stakeholders were involved in and aware of the process. Though it is now retired, Philadelphia also provided a public open data pipeline describing where various datasets were in the publication process via the popular project management software Trello. This approach of “working in the open” has also been used by several federal agencies.
The Planning and Design Services (PDS) department in Louisville, KY, wanted to publish its data openly but lacked insight into the needs of stakeholders in the community. To learn more about the people using PDS data, the staff hosted a GovEx-facilitated roundtable discussion with representatives from neighborhood associations, real estate developers, civic hackers, government GIS consortiums, and city government. Through this process, this group explored the potential for useful visualizations, prioritized relevant contextual datasets, and discussed the benefits and challenges of suggested tools. Louisville was able to incorporate much of this resident feedback into its future vision for open PDS data and has strengthened relationships with community partners.
Tacoma, WA, actively involved the community in its strategic planning sessions for Tacoma 2025. The city connected with more than 2,000 residents at fairs and festivals (e.g., Ethnic Fest, farmers markets, at the zoo), through its online forum and community survey, and during a series of citywide visioning events. More than 100 residents attended events to review the first draft of Tacoma 2025, providing useful feedback and helping the city establish its strategic plan, which now guides budget metrics and Tacoma’s open data and performance management programs. By meeting residents where they are, Tacoma was able to get a well-rounded understanding of community needs and priorities when working through its strategic planning process.
Questions to Consider
- Does your city know what the community is looking for from your open data or performance management program? If not, would one of the forums described in this chapter work for your community’s culture in that discovery?
- What are some targeted questions you can post on these types of forums to spark conversation and interest in data?
- Who in the city will be responsible for curating or moderating these conversations? What will the frequency be?
- Will this be a one-time initiative or something you hope to revisit on a regular basis? Does that response change your approach to community engagement?
- Are there individuals or groups that have expressed distrust or disappointment with city government? If so, how can you best connect with them to foster transparency and trust? For example, is there overlap between those individuals or groups and existing networks?
Related Tools and GovEx Resources