Monday, April 2, 2007

Open Government: Not Just for Big Cities Anymore

Open government initiatives at the local level for many years were only found in big cities, but the development of new affordable tech solutions have brought municipalities of all sizes into the mix. Now, small communities like Pembroke Pines, FL and Lombard, IL are providing the same searchable easy access to their legislative information as larger ones such as Philadelphia, Miami or Long Beach.

The list seems to be growing rapidly: West Allis, WI and Jonesboro, AR are announcing plans to implement new open government solutions on their websites in the coming months, while Madison, WI has just received top tech city honors for their population category from the Center for Digital Government two years in a row.

Information connectivity and efficient wordflow is paramount to the success of open government in this paperless age. As informational flow is the product of any local government’s Clerk’s Office, not surprisingly, it is quite frequently the Clerks themselves who fight to acquire the right technologies or for the changing of laws to allow for more efficient dispersal of data.

“We have been trying for some time to affect a change in the laws of the state of Wisconsin to permit our posting of agendas via [Legistar] InSite to serve as the official postings required by statute,” says Milwaukee Deputy-Clerk Jim Owczarski. “Wisconsin's Open Records Law is justifiably well-known for its breadth and depth, but, in some respects, remains blinkered by its having been drafted in an era before the broad accessibility of the Internet.”

There are still well over eight thousand local governments that need to get into the same practice of informational transparency: some with resource hurdles, some with political hurdles and some with educational hurdles. Technology usually solves resource issues. Teaching the right local government personnel what technology can do for their wordflow leaves only political roadblocks.

Luckily, one of the most effective tools against political obstructions is the progress of peers. As each small local government brings its data to the people via internet solutions, it is the smaller city with the great service that will be influencing the bigger ones nearby. As the wordflow of all local governments evolves, we will eventually enter a new age of collaborative open government where aggregated searches, mutual procurement and smart networking will yield a new standard in efficiency nationwide.

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