Transparency isn’t just something government does. It is an expectation of behavior. Citizens have to demand more transparency from government as well as educate themselves on what information is available and how it affects their lives.
What makes the Internet great is that it allows people to connect, access information, and organize cheaply and efficiently at any time of the day. However, transparency isn’t just about the Internet. The Internet is a vehicle to get, understand, and organize around information but the sole source of real transparency is people. People set the expectations placed on government, because government is made up of people.
A few things you can do for transparency.
Start sharing stories about what the current state of government information is in your life and what your expectations of it are. Have you tried to find legislation? Contact information for elected officials, staff, or a bureaucrat? Regulations? Voting information? Business information?
How well do you know your member of Congress? Who are the top contributors to your member of Congress? Do they sponsor earmarks? Did the people who gave them donations get earmarks? What legislation have they sponsored or co sponsored? What is their favorite thing to talk about on the floor of the House or Senate?
What do you know about legislation? What issues are important to you? Is there specific legislation that affects those issues? What is in that piece of legislation? How do you find out what’s in it? Did it pass? If not why not? Why is the bill stalled?
Do you go to government Web sites to get information you need about your community or vital information regarding products or services? Does it provide all the information you need in a helpful way? Is the site easy to use? What would you like to see there? Have you thought of writing a review of government site you use often?
Have you ever spoken to your Congressperson or their staff? Call your Congressmen and ask them to be more transparent by disclosing more information about themselves (Personal financial disclosures, etc). Or ask them to join FaceBook, YouTube, or Twitter; tell them you want to be able to talk to them about the issues that matter to you. Be sincere and say as a constituent you would appreciate that they made the effort to try to have real conversations with real people as much as possible.
I challenge people to take 5 minutes and try to answer some of the above questions. Government information and how it affects citizens will always be a part of our every day life. The real purpose of transparency is to make government effective and that means understanding where it is deficient. Finding out where Sunlight is needed the most is what people can do everyday to improve the community they live in.
Please add more ideas in the comments or report back on what you find.