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5 Best Practices for Open Local Government

University of Utah students to ask all 273 of the state’s local governments to adopt these best practices.

Utah continues to win accolades for its online presence, adding honors late last month for its Utah Connect Portal, which unites Utah-related social media feeds from all levels of government. The American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council recognized Utah Connect for excellence in social media with an award.

But students at the University of Utah want to make sure those high standards are upheld by local governments in Utah too. Focusing specifically on open government practices, the Honors College Think Tank on Transparency and Privacy recently evaluated 16 local governments, discovering a wide variety of policies now in use.

As a result of their study, the students are embarking on a statewide initiative to encourage local governments to operate more openly. Drawing on their own findings, as well as expertise from well-known open government advocates, including the Sunlight Foundation, the students will officially launch the Utah Transparency Project at a press conference Wednesday, April 11.

With support from prominent Utah elected officials and community organizations, students will formally ask all 273 local governments in Utah to adopt the following five best practices in support of local government openness.

1.    Local governments should establish a dedicated open government webpage, providing a searchable repository for all public information, accessible in three clicks or less.

2.    Online information needs to be collected, generated and maintained in a digital form and made available on the open government webpage in a timely way.

3.    All electronic communications made with government supplied equipment, including emails and instant messages, should be considered public records.

4.    Elected officials and senior administrators should post their schedules publicly, maintain open settings on social networking sites and commit to a culture of transparency.

5.    Governmental bodies should make all public meetings as open as possible by posting agendas and meeting materials in advance, streaming live meeting audio or video, posting recordings within 48 hours and allowing remote participation.

The complete list of the five transparency best practices for local governments from the Utah Transparency Project is available here.

University of Utah Professor Randy Dryer summarized the effort in a recent blog post: “The students designed an initiative which will make local governments truly open and accessible to citizens and lay the foundation for greater citizen engagement with government.”