Connecting state and local government leaders
A new public records request management platform is making it easier to put information in residents’ hands ahead of time.
Albuquerque is changing how it manages public records requests and treating the initiative as an opportunity to recast the way improvements are rolled out citywide.
San Francisco-based open public records company NextRequest has, so far, created portals to receive records requests for the city’s clerk, police, environmental health and parks and recreation departments with 23 agencies left to go by year’s end.
Requests come in an accessible work form, responses are coordinated and documents are then uploaded and reviewed internally before being made available to the requestor or the public more generally.
“We are fairly representative of what goes on in government now with increased calls for inspection of public records,” said Mark Leech, the city of Albuquerque's application development manager. “Citizens want to be more involved in what’s going on.”
Using keywords, the NextRequest platform can divert requests to the proper department or to information City Hall has already released online—saving staff time.
The brainchild of several 2013 Code for America fellows, NextRequest tracks common requests and how many times pages have been accessed and downloaded to inform data-driven decisions about what information cities should make public next.
“Governments are trying to find a way to reduce staff time by automating the records request process with us and seeing what types of information people find most useful,” said Reed Duecy-Gibbs, NextRequest chief product officer. “They might find, ‘Oh, we have a database for this behind a firewall,’ and there’s no reason they can’t just open the dataset to make things easier and less painful for everyone.”
The Port of Seattle was the company’s first customer and uses data to look at how much staff time is spent processing unnecessary records requests.
Albuquerque tracks such metrics before and after data is released.
“We’re really hoping to use data points to see what people are asking for across the city,” Leech said. “Almost like having a probe in the city to check the temperature.”
NextRequest respects private data while making information more accessible to the public via a polished portal interface that promotes transparent discussions of policy.
If a requestor catches a government employee at a bad time, they might become convinced information is being withheld when it’s not, Leech said, making a request platform that frees up bandwidth and improves internal efficiency all the more important to public engagement.
“One of our core values is to change the tone of interaction between government and the public around the issue of records requests,” Duecy-Gibbs said. “They can become contentious and politics can get involved, so we want to reduce the friction of processes with technology.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.