Over time, transparency has evolved from just a buzzword to actually being important to the public.
In Oshkosh, Wis., transparency policies are a priority. In the city, these policies make agencies run more efficiently, and provide the public with more services and information.
And on March 10, the city will showcase its commitment to transparency during Sunshine Week – an event that encourages governments from across the nation to discuss how transparency can provide value to the public.
“We really put a lot of emphasis on making as much of city hall information available on the Web as possible,” said IT Manager Anthony Neumann, adding that Oshkosh provides the public with access to documents across 12 departments using Laserfiche’s WebLink software.
Sunshine Week will take place March 10-16, 2013, driving public discussion on issues of government transparency. The event was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bloomberg LP, American Society of News Editors, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. More information can be found at SunshineWeek.org.
Many documents – from board commissions, council meetings, agendas, police accident reports and the clerk’s office – are available through the city’s websites, and a majority of the city’s municipal and public meetings are broadcast online to reach citizens who live outside the city cable providers’ reach.
Maintaining the Laserfiche system costs the city just $8,900 per year, Neumann said – but the net cost is a positive gain because of the time the technology saves city workers.
“Internally a lot of them are seeing reduced foot traffic because people are getting things more at their own convenience,” he said. “As time moves on and certain agencies come under scrutiny, the actual transparency thing has evolved from just a buzzword to actually important to the public.”
The city has been working with Laserfiche since 2001, he said, but they’ve come a long way, both technologically and mentally since then.
“Originally we were looking at it to store city clerk documents and police department files,” Neumann said, explaining how everything would then need to be entered into a computer in addition to the normal processes. “That memo didn’t go as expected," he added. "People saw that as an extra step rather than the larger vision of accessibility.”
So rather than deploy the large system they wanted, Neumann said, they deployed a smaller implementation that would lead the city clerks to begin migrating their documents into the system.
“As that blossomed, suddenly the inspections division saw some value to it," he said. "We started putting our inspections, our permits, our building inspection citations on, and that evolved into a large property room."
And as that grew, Neumann said, people were starting to see long-term that it was actually a good thing. "Sometimes it has to be proven before anyone will actually believe it,” he added, noting that IT managers are the innovation drivers in an organization, and when staff members don’t see the value in new technology, IT managers have to become salespeople and marketers, and show people the value of the technology. “We do a lot of innovation with the public safety side of things,” he said. “You have to always go small, prove that it’s going to work and it kind of flourishes from there.”
Another way the OshKosh IT department saves money, Neumann said, is by developing software in-house rather than automatically springing for an off-the-shelf solution. While many organizations take the opposite approach, citing the sometimes high cost of in-house development, Neumann said that it depends on the individual case.
“I think it’s how you gear your resources as to whether that’s a cost benefit or not,” he said. “We save an immeasurable amount by doing a lot of our systems in-house. Our cash-receipting is done in-house, our permitting is done in-house. All of our websites – we have seven – they’re all done in-house.”
Being transparent and staying innovative even when there is internal dissent and a lack of funding, he said, is the goal his organization focuses on. The city is now upgrading some of its inspection services information, such as a site plan reviews system that will allow contractors to track their contract’s status. It’s all about being progressive, Neumann said. “We try to stay ahead of the curve regardless of the financial position we’re in."
Photo of OshKosh, Wis., courtesy of destination360.com