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Transparency in Government

There is a lot of discussion these days about transparency in government. In January President Obama wrote a memorandum on ‘Transparency and Open Government’, and in May the National Academy of Public Administration started soliciting input from the public on how to make the government more transparent.


What’s become clear to me from the discussions I’ve been a part of is that there is a difference between performance measurement in government and transparency in government. While many agencies have well defined measures and a framework/process for managing performance in place, few have done a good job of providing citizens with

  • Facts and figures on project results and findings
  • Structure and context to data so it is easily searchable, analyzed and understood by citizens
  • Information on policy rationales used by agencies when making decisions
  • The names of those involved in top-level policy decisions and minutes from meetings


Clear external communication is critical for transparency. As the Carter Center puts it:
“Democracy depends on a knowledgeable citizenry whose access to a range of information enables them to participate more fully in public life, help determine priorities for public spending, receive equal access to justice, and to hold their public officials accountable. Inadequate public access to information allows corruption to flourish, and back-room deals to determine spending in the interests of the few rather than many.”


I believe business intelligence and information management technology can be an enabler for greater government openness and clarity in communication with citizens. Instead of just dumping an agency’s raw data on a web site, the information can be organized and tools provided so that external constituents can more easily analyze it. I believe this kind of open access to information will not only increase the public’s trust in government but also facilitate non-government research with the goal of identifying, evaluating and prioritizing different solutions to problems challenging public officials.


If you would like to see an example of how business intelligence can enable greater transparency in government visit the State of Washington Transportation Improvement Board’s web site. They built a dashboard using SAP BusinessObjects technology to manage the agency’s $200 million of revenues generate from 3 cents of the state gas tax. Moreover, they provide the public with the same exact view the agency’s Executive Director has. Now that’s what I call transparency!


Some of the benefits the agency has realized include

  • Reduced delayed projects by 70%, saving millions in public funds
  • Reduced accidents by 19% and injuries by 30%
  • Reduced average payment cycle from 5 months to 17 days

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