Connecting state and local government leaders
To improve transparency, officials must first understand local demographics, according to a new University of Missouri study.
The better your Internet access, the more likely your county government embraces transparency, according to a new State and Local Government Review study.
University of Missouri researchers found county governments overseeing large cities released more information to the public on their official websites when citizens had good Internet access.
Understanding Internet access levels within jurisdictions and how to improve them is key to local governments gaining the public’s trust, according to the report.
“For governments to improve transparency in their counties, it really requires a holistic approach that directly addresses the needs of specific areas,” Charles Menifield, professor at the university’s Truman School of Public Affairs, said in an announcement. “If a highly educated population in an urban area has low Internet access, then improving that access may improve citizens’ abilities to seek government information online. However, in a rural, less educated population, governments may want to seek transparency in other ways than online, or search to improve factors like education and income first.”
To that end, analyzing population demographics, and minority and age groups in particular, is critical to forming an action plan.
Counties with lower education levels tend to have more citizens who lacked the ability to use the Internet regularly, according to the report, which also requires improving education and thus increases the likelihood the public will seek out government information online.
Population density, total land area and the council-manager government structure—typically more transparent—proved other important factors to consider.
The government transparency data used was collected by the nonprofit group Sunshine Review and compared with demographic data in 816 out of 1,055 counties across 12 Midwestern states. County government websites were evaluated based on how much information they put out and how easy it was for basic Internet users to find.
“Transparency is important because it improves overall trust in the government and validates that governance to its citizens,” Menifield said. “The difference between the truth and a lie is evidence. If governments can provide proper evidence to citizens that they are governing well, it can improve the possibility of positive interactions between governments and the people.”
Dave Nyczepir is News Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty.