How to Restore Public Trust in Government Institutions through Data Literacy

We’ve read it in headlines, seen it play out on social media, and heard talking heads report and opine on it: the erosion of trust in our civic institutions.

Ironically—and painfully—this comes at a time in which there are more tools and sophisticated technology at our disposal than ever before to create a true culture of community through trust, teamwork and transparency.

Compounding this challenge for government employees, administrators and managers is that they are constantly being asked to do more with less: more reporting, more tasks, more compliance…all with less time, tighter budgets and fewer resources.

The good news? The solution is there for the taking. The ubiquity of data and the myriad channels through which we can make it accessible to our constituents in our communities make a seemingly irreversible trend both manageable and realistic.

With the right tools and technology serving as the liaison between municipalities and the constituents we serve, there should be more trust in government, not less. It’s never been easier to inject greater transparency into the data we manage, without burdening our teams nor our citizens with confusing, cumbersome and conflicting technologies.

Create a Culture of Data Literacy to Measure Everything—Even the Invisible

Achieving a community-wide commitment to what we call a “culture of data literacy” is a government’s best opportunity to reverse the erosion of trust trend. This means having a very real, very consistent commitment to optimal data-use practices in order to facilitate better data-driven decisions. We now have to make even the invisible…visible.

Enough of the invisible; enough of not knowing what we don’t know. There are easily implemented and easily understood systems that take all of the time and labor we used to devote to the administrative headaches of keeping data systems current and execute it all for us…way better and faster than we humans ever could. This is what we mean by investing in a culture of data literacy—not just for ourselves, but the real people out there who are demanding it in real time.

Take these actions as a community, and you will be well on your way to achieving this culture of data literacy, and making measurable, demonstrable progress toward greater transparency, and ultimately, trust:

Understand the whole community. Know the complete community you serve, and not just the obvious, big-picture data points. What portion of the population rents versus owns? What is the size and nature of its homeless population? What about its percentage of single-parent households? What is the community’s complete demographics picture, from ethnicity to income, and everything in between? Not until you see all of the data points, overlaid against one another, can you discern which data are the drivers, and which are the resultant outcomes. At the end of ach of those data points is a person—there’s more to know about them than simply census demographics.

Connect the dots. Do all of your data sets talk to one another? Or is your vital information stuck in silos—disparate spreadsheets and systems with little interoperability? The most comprehensive data analytics and management solutions can harvest and contextualize publicly available data with your privately generated and proprietary data in one powerful combination.

Show them the money. The $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden, Nov. 15, 2021, includes $550 billion in new funding to rebuild roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, internet and more. That’s the good news. The challenge is that both the public and the federal government will be clamoring for (or demanding, in the latter case) accountability and reporting. What money came to our community, how did we spend it, and what was the net outcome of our investment? Those are the questions you need to prepare to answer. Investing in “data literacy” technology now will only make that easier, more effective, and more appreciated from the citizens you are endeavoring to invest in.

Shift with priorities. As opposed to line-item or project-based budgeting, a priority-based methodology allows communities to more strategically consider and triage community-specific priorities in real time, accurately forecast and model revenue projections, determine the best strategies and outcomes, and ultimately allocate the limited pool of resources through proper planning, pragmatic decision making, and transparent reporting that meets federal and state compliance mandates. Newly available federal dollars present great opportunity and promise for communities’ ability to meet the evolving needs of their constituents. However, attendant reporting requirements and unknown accountability mandates create uncertainty, as well as a need for a new approach to budgeting, based more on actual priorities and less on somewhat arbitrary year-over-year incremental expenditure increases.

Show and tell. Most importantly, once you have all available data sets into one, centralized, intelligent system, create the pictures that paint more than the thousands of words in a data set. Allow the layperson to accessibly understand the data being presented, through charts, graphics and dashboards. Allow users to not only get a clear picture of the past and present, but a genuine understanding of where the community is heading, financially and strategically. What are the community priorities? How are you addressing the needs of today and the challenges of tomorrow?

So often, trust starts with understanding. The more open you are with the data that rightly belongs in the public domain, the more you will be inviting the public into a true dialogue, and ultimately, a relationship. Like any relationship, those that are built on trust and open communication are the ones that thrive.

From financials and transparency compliance to planning and progress reporting, Munetrix has easy-to- adopt and easy-to-use modules that facilitate simpler and more robust forecasting, capital planning and performance management—a comprehensive suite of powerful, interdependent solutions for the whole community, taking multi-level, complex data sets and making them simple to understand, report and act upon.

Because an informed community—an educated community…a truly transparent community—is where trust is earned. And that’s how communities are united, strengthened and nurtured.

More transparency. More trust. Stronger communities.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning about how our solutions deliver greater transparency and empower you to “do more with less,” click the appropriate button below:

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