Government needs to adapt to transparency in digital age

By Saba Long

Atlanta – this may come as a surprise, but when it comes to transparency in data keeping, we’re faring better than other large cities.

Through events such as Random Hacks and Govathon, civic hackathons are becoming the norm within the city limits. In fact, just this weekend, Atlanta transparency advocates participated for the first time in CodeAcross, a global event in its third year organized by Code for America, the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Knowledge Foundation – all leading open government organizations.

This year’s theme Beyond Transparency focused on establishing an open data inventory to include, among other items, city code enforcement violations, business listings and procurement processes.

Nationwide, CodeAcross participants assessed the availability of city data and catalogued its inventory on the U.S. City Open Data Census. Of the participating cities, Atlanta received high marks in transparency, ahead of Washington, D.C. and Seattle.

In the latter half of the project, the group gathered to identify worthwhile public projects that would require access to currently unavailable government data.

One pitch called for a “one-stop shop” web portal that listed all state offices, hours of operation and contact information. Perhaps a new resident or recently-unemployed individual would need to query information from multiple state departments. They would simply input their zip code, identify the offices of interest and then receive a list based on their location.

A local opportunity for government transparency is with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability. Individuals wanting information to quantify its impact often need access to numerous data points from the city and its partners, including water and energy use, air quality and transportation. While some of these points are likely available separately, there lacks a universal publicly accessible application to track progress and compare our efforts to competitor cities.

While Atlanta is generally at the forefront of this trend, conversations around transparency and data access should be had across the state. Numerous public opinion polls have clearly identified a need for more trust in government in Georgia.

For those unclear or unfamiliar with the open data movement, it is not only a call for improved access to government information but also an opportunity for government to improve what the technology community defines as user experience (UX).

Ultimately, public entities must create an internal culture focused on treating constituents as customers. Our digital expectations should not be off limits for the public sector, and it is becoming clear that the open data effort is an obvious opportunity for those in elected office to restore trust in government while providing a unique opportunity for public engagement.

Embracing and implementing an open data government is a meaningful way to right the ship.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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