By Julia (McGinnis) Erdkamp.

Now, more than ever, there is growing expectation for transparency at all levels of government.  Add to this trend the increased level of interaction via the internet through social media and you have what is now the “high-tech, high-touch” era of civic engagement, also known as the open government movement. Local agencies now find themselves overwhelmed with public demands for easily accessible and readily available financial data.  In the midst of operational pressures and limited resources, the question becomes, how does one manage this new level of public participation?

While most government agencies appreciate and support the intent of the open government movement, legacy systems and platforms have created massive, complex, inflexible platforms.  These platforms provide static budget reports not formatted for public consumption.

Beyond the Spreadsheets.

Today, new tools exist to provide a dynamic dialog between the public, elected officials, and agency staff regarding budget information.  However, before diving into the murky waters of transparency, government agencies should ensure their open government initiatives address the following areas:

  • Easy Implementation and maintenance – We’ve all been there, ERP implementations that consume countless numbers of staff resources and time, taking months, if not years, to complete. Open data platforms, such as EZTransparency™, do not require municipal staff or IT resources to build and implement, and can put local government on the fast track to transparency in just 45 days.   We create your transparent budget with drill downs using your budget.

2) Help Visualize the Budget – Does your budget data tell a story?  Government agencies are never lacking in data. What is missing, are the proper visualization tools to display data in a way that shows how this information aligns with agency goals and outcomes. Historically, government budgets contain hundreds of pages and are often difficult for citizens to analyze and understand. Meaningful open government tools provide a graphical user interface with metrics and dashboards creating a concise overview of an agency’s performance.

  • Empower the Public – One of the key measures of a successful open government initiative is the reduction of time between public inquiry and information. Rather than consuming staff time with budget data requests, your platform can put the data in the hands of the public.  With just a few clicks, EZTransparency™, allows your citizens to digest budget information via charts and graphs and even search your agency’s check register.  Constituent empowerment not only allows your organization to operate more efficiently, it fosters public trust and encourages civic engagement!
  • Go Green– An open government strategy should also meet sustainability goals. Printed budgets should be a thing of the past.  Ensure your platform allows citizens to readily access needed information on their computers, as well as mobile devices.  The average citizen now spends more time browsing the web from their smartphone, than they do a personal computer.   For this reason, platforms such as EZTransparency™, are mobile-ready and require no software or special downloads for citizens to access budget information.  Information is available anytime, anywhere, reducing the need to print lengthy budget reports.  Transparency can help your jurisdiction go paperless.

Are you ready to meet the challenge?

With these four keys in place, your agency is equipped to tackle the open data challenge and generate transparency for your citizens.

For over 35 years, MuniServices has been a champion for local government, by creating innovative pathways for revenue recovery.  To date, MuniServices has recovered over $2.4 billion in combined new tax revenue for our local jurisdiction clients. The new tax revenue directly funds programs and services provided by the communities served.  As a trusted advisor to more than 900 jurisdictions around the country, MuniServices continues to raise the bar with, EZTransparency™.  EZTransparency™ is a web-based platform that provides efficient delivery and understanding of budget information for constituents, elected leaders municipal staff, and the public at-large.  Watch our “Getting Started” video, and contact us to find out more on how you can become transparent in as little as 30 days.

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Julia (McGinnis) Erdkamp is a Client Service Manager for MuniServices where she oversees the firm’s revenue recovery services for local government agencies and assist agencies in maximizing revenue.

Erdkamp worked for nearly 15 years in the public sector including her work for the City of Sacramento and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation where she served as chief of the bureau’s Enterprise Program Management Office. When she left the Bureau, Julia took a position at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she was the aviation security liaison for all airlines at John Wayne Airport. Immediately before joining MuniServices, she worked for County of Orange’s Waste & Recycling Department managing the budget administration, renewable energy program, and public information office.

Julia graduated as a political science major from USC. She went on to earn her master’s degree in public administration magna cum laude from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy in 2006.