The power of technology to boost government transparency and build citizen trust
Digital Government
January 13, 2023

The power of technology to boost government transparency and build citizen trust

Smart city initiatives and IoT technologies have revolutionized the way in which governments interact with their citizens. This technology has played a crucial role in building government transparency and citizen trust over the last decade. In the past, getting information from the municipality or providing feedback was often a difficult and time-consuming process. But nowadays, with the adoption of various technologies in government agencies, citizens are able to see a much clearer picture of how their governments actually function.

What is government transparency?

At its core, transparency is the ability to be able to see through something from one side to the other. Nothing is obscured or hidden. It is transparent from both sides. When talking about government transparency, we are referring to the level of openness and accessibility of government information and actions to the public. This is a key principle of good governance and a cornerstone of democratic societies. Government transparency ensures that the public has access to information and actions taken by municipalities and is essentially a window into how local, state, and federal agencies operate. This allows citizens to easily see and understand what's happening within their communities. 

Why is government transparency important?

Government transparency is particularly important in the relationship between a municipality and its citizens. It promotes accountability and fosters trust, both important factors in allowing municipalities at all levels to garner feedback and support from their constituents. In a nutshell, transparency is a big deal because it helps to make sure that governments are working effectively for their citizens.

How does technology enable governments to build trust and transparency with their citizens?

1. Improved access to information

With just a few clicks on a computer or taps on a smartphone, citizens can now easily access government websites, social media pages, and online portals to find out information about policies, programs, and services. Through the use of technology, citizens no longer have to go to a physical office or wait on hold to get the information they need, which is a huge benefit in today’s busy society. Examples of how government technology improves access to information includes: the posting of financial records on a website, displaying meeting minutes in an online citizen portal, or posting policy decisions on social media to keep citizens informed of what is currently taking place within their municipality.

2. Ease of providing citizen feedback during the government decision-making process

Public hearings, council meetings, and community forums can now take place under a hybrid model, where those who are unable to attend in-person can jump online and still have their voices heard. These increased opportunities to gain public input and feedback about policies and projects can make decision-making more streamlined and efficient for municipal administrators. For example, many governments now have online platforms where citizens can submit comments and ideas on policies, and even vote on certain issues. This not only makes it more convenient for people to participate but it also allows governments to gather a wider range of perspectives and make more informed decisions.

3. Current tech helps to fuel future tech plans

Opportunities for the public to weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks of a given tech project can now be facilitated through digital tools such as online polls, surveys and video conferencing. Essentially creating a loop where current tech can help citizens provide insight on other tech projects that a municipality has planned for the future. Citizen feedback is extremely useful when implementing any smart city or technology initiative, because designing a solution that takes the end user into account is crucial to its uptake and overall success. Smart city policies, for example, should include concrete commitments to community engagement throughout every phase of their initiatives or tech rollouts. Many technology projects involve information that might not be familiar to the public, so this comprehensive and open approach builds rapport between city hall and its population. 

4. Making it easier to share data and information with the public

Data privacy is a big concern for citizens in their dealings with both the public and private sectors. It’s important for governments to help constituents feel comfortable with the data they collect and how they use it. The City of Toronto’s independent data trust is an excellent example of a repository that also acts as a single access point for all data within the city. The trust acts as a “steward for all personal data” and creates the possibility of data subjects (citizens) being able to see how their data is being used and opt out of anything deemed unethical or otherwise concerning. This level of access and control can give citizens peace of mind in knowing that the city’s operations are above board and subject to scrutiny if necessary. This example is indicative of a promising trend toward advanced forms of government transparency.

Technology has played a huge role in building trust and transparency between governments and citizens. It has made it easier for people to access information, provide feedback, and get involved in decision-making, enabling government agencies to be more effective in their efforts to serve the citizen. Although no municipality will be able to implement perfect transparency, these efforts are important in showing a population that its government cares about what they have to contribute. The willingness to be as open as resources will allow is an important factor in easing citizens’ minds and making them more open to governmental progress and change.

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