Helping Citizens Extract Information from Data

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The general public has neither the time nor the technical expertise for using highly detailed financial information—they need guidance on how to extract information from your data. For example, terms that are commonplace for government finance officers are often completely foreign to most citizens. Therefore, the titles, labels, and other descriptors picked up from your financial system may need to be changed to more citizen-friendly terminology, according to "Helping Citizens Extract Information from Data," as session at GFOA's May 2016 annual conference in Toronto. Working with actual citizens who have an interest in government transparency is a good way to find out where terms need to be changed and what they should be changed to.

Financial transparency should provide some guided analysis of the data—ready-made graphs and charts that answer common questions should be included. But citizens should also have easy access to the underlying detailed information, in a machine-readable format. That’s because citizens may have analytical questions that you did not anticipate, and some citizens may wish to validate the analysis. Providing the source data satisfies both of these needs.

In addition to the benefits provided to citizens, a well-designed transparency program can also help to staff. Employees outside of the finance department may not have access to the financial system, or they may not have the expertise to extract the data they’d like to see. A transparency initiative can even provide at-a-glance updates on financial position that had not previously been available to staff in the finance department.