Use Data to Increase Public Trust and Engagement

September 20, 2022 by Meredith Trimble

Use Data to Increase Public Trust and Engagement

For many innovative jurisdictions, internal data-sharing is the key to smarter, more effective operations. Equally important, however, is the external use of a government’s data. Using valuable information that’s already on hand as part of community engagement, transparency, and innovation can measurably increase public engagement as well as improve public trust in government.

Two recent Cities Today articles highlighted these very benefits, drawing on the expertise of Tyler’s own Senior Client Success Manager, Melissa Bridges, formerly the performance and innovation coordinator for the city of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Melissa Bridges, Tyler Technologies
Melissa Bridges, Tyler Technologies

Engaging the Public

Residents have busy lives. Many don’t see a reason to visit their government’s open data portal and have never done so. It’s oftentimes up to the jurisdiction itself to turn data into useful information and be proactive about showing people what it means for them.

In “Engaging the Public with Data,” Cities Today referenced the example of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who strategically put data at the heart of every policy and program. The city’s Memphis Data Hub aggregated information from disparate source systems to build a true analytics program and present relevant information to the public.   

It proved overwhelming popular, experiencing more than 15,600 users and 137,000 pageviews in the first three months after its launch. The key to the data hub’s success was a targeted outreach campaign. “We’ve been able to bring the data hub to neighborhood meetings, train librarians on how to use it, and collaborate with civic groups to host a civic data 'hackathon' in conjunction with Open Data Day,” explained Sarah Harris, director of the Memphis Office of Performance Management.

The hub has been a useful tool to communicate the city’s work to residents through stories that provide nuance and context. Visitors, for example, can access performance dashboards with easy-to-understand color coding and story pages tied to each metric. Maps allow users to view trends and patterns related to crime, civic assets, and capital improvement projects.   

“Visualization is only as good as the context you can put around it,” noted Bridges, “and that’s been the key pivot that I’ve seen a lot of our cities take. It’s not just data, maps, and graphs, it’s about sharing why it’s important, what it means, and how it affects people as residents.”

Improving Public Trust

A new transparency and trust-building trend took hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, when local governments rapidly launched health-related dashboards and information hubs. In, “Using Data to Improve Public Trust,” Cities Today profiled Buffalo, New York’s public hub for COVID-19 response. In 2020, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown noted the misinformation that was being presented as fact. “It’s critically important that people get good information, accurate information, so they can make proper health care decisions for themselves that have an impact not only on their health, but their family members and their friends,” he noted.

Through Tyler’s Enterprise Data Platform, Brown’s team provided the public with quick, easy access to a wide range of aggregated information such as public health and mental health resources, small business and employment assistance, information on shelters and food, and access to virtual events.

Many cities that followed this approach are now building on it to keep up dialogue with their residents. With historic federal relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, cities can leverage data hubs to show residents precisely how money is being used to address the issues that matter to them.

“Cities now want to show how these funds are being allocated, where they’re being spent, and the impact they’re having in the community,” said Bridges. “I think that’s the next step in using this to build trust and we’re starting to see more and more of those dashboards around.”

The more people are likely to interact with data, the more engagement and innovation cities will receive in return. Meeting people where they are with user-friendly solutions and providing easily-consumable data to constituents connects governments with those they serve in powerful ways. These connections make residents and governments active participants in creating strong, thriving communities.

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