Every March, the national Sunshine Week initiative brings government organizations, media groups, nonprofits, civic groups and other members of the general public together to discuss and promote open government in the United States. The initiative always coincides with President James Madison’s birthday on March 16, because Madison was the founding father who was the most adamant about the need for the government to have checks and balances.
Government transparency is an important part of democracy, which is what Sunshine Week aims to celebrate and protect. The public’s right to know creates accountability for organizations and keeps citizens informed of how their government is operating.
However, it’s not always easy for agencies to respond to records requests in a timely manner. As Maureen Reynolds, Tompkins County Clerk, said “People think the government is hiding information. It’s not that we’re hiding it, we just can’t find it!”
Many government agencies have turned to Laserfiche enterprise content management (ECM) for help. Whether you’re looking for information related to CIA cafeteria complaints or court case files, it’s important to expedite the process and deliver the information in an efficient, compliant manner.
Here are three ways Laserfiche ECM can promote government transparency and save time for your organization:
1. Create a public document portal
The ultimate solution to a backlog in public records requests is a self-service model. Using Laserfiche ECM, government organizations can post select public documents online, which allows citizens to quickly and easily access commonly sought information on-demand.
The City of Fontana, CA, implemented a public document portal when citizens and media groups were seeking information about proposals to build two local big-box stores. By letting citizens locate the documents themselves using the online portal, city staff saved an estimated 10 to 20 hours per month that otherwise would have been spent manually responding to these public records requests.
2. Integrate Laserfiche with other applications to improve information usability
While posting documents online can be helpful, in some cases, it can be even more user-friendly to attach the documents to another application or website so the information is being delivered in a suitable context. For example, attaching land use documents and permits to a mapping application can help businesses and land-owners easily locate the information relevant to their parcel of interest. Citizens don’t always know the parcel number they should be searching for when locating documents, but they will be able to locate the area on a map, and click on the parcel to pull up the relevant documents.
Skagit County, WA implemented a system where citizens and businesses can identify parcels of land using their phone’s GPS location and pull up permits and assessment documents based on the location. This tool, called iMap, receives over 7,000 hits a day and is used heavily by bankers processing home loans, real estate professionals and even pizza delivery drivers. In addition, county staff has benefited from heavily reduced lines for records requests, and citizens have been pleased by the accessibility of information.
3. Create an e-form to capture public records request information and automate notifications
Using Laserfiche Forms, governments can quickly fulfill requests for documents that aren’t available online, which helps organizations comply with public records legislation. For example many public records laws (often called FOIA or FOIL) set strict timelines for responding to a request. By collecting public records request information via an online form, notifications can be automatically routed—and stakeholders updated—as the process progresses.
So, when a citizen files a request, the responding department is immediately notified of the new request via email. Then, upon receipt of the request by the responding department, Laserfiche ECM will send an email to the citizen stating that the request has been received and will be responded to within a given time period. This helps cities, counties and state agencies maintain compliance with public records mandates while expediting the process of administering the request.
The City of Ithaca, NY, uses e-forms to collect public records requests, and since implementing this process, has seen a 35% reduction in the time it takes to respond to requests. Given that the city receives over 1,000 requests annually, this equates to over 7,000 hours saved each year!
If you’re looking to further promote transparency at your organization, download this exclusive report to learn more about the benefits of process automation for government organizations: