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Public dashboards help Minnesota local governments build trust, staff say

(The Center Square) – Many Minnesota local governments are using public dashboards to encourage trust through transparency and accountability, according to a public sector performance management provider.

Envisio spokeswoman Ashley Hunt told The Center Square that one in 10 of the company’s customers are Minnesota agencies and governments.

CEO Mike Bell said in a statement to The Center Square received that public trust in local government is low and has been declining. 

Bell said local governments that want to build back public trust must demonstrate transparency and accountability. They can use dashboards to show the public progress on goals and be transparent regarding challenges in a visual, transparent and easy-to understand way. Envisio saw a surge in local governments’ development of public dashboards to track public health during the pandemic.

“Public-facing dashboards have become more popular as data collection and visualizations tools have become easier to use and as understanding increases regarding the need for transparency to bolster trust in government,” he said.

The cities of Roseville and Woodbury are Envisio customers.

Roseville has a public dashboard for its strategic racial equity action plan.

City of Roseville Equity and Inclusion Manager Thomas Brooks said in an emailed statement to The Center Square received that the city wants to engage stakeholders so staff can learn from their experiences and expertise, build trust and, ultimately, hold staff accountable. Engagement is the main priority of the city’s new community relations team.

The city has been collecting and using data to guide decision-making, confirm that its programs and services are effective and publicly track and communicate progress on milestones for its strategic racial equity action plan, furthering its equity and inclusion priorities, he said. The public dashboard also helps with data visualization for the development of the city’s first workforce report and sustainability initiatives.

He said that most strategic plans are long-term, with work that’s typically behind the scenes, so strategic planning software boosts communication. A regularly maintained plan ensures staff stay focused on the outcomes.

Woodbury’s public dashboard shows annually reported key performance indicators for the city’s departments.

Woodbury Assistant City Administrator Angela Gorall told The Center Square in an emailed statement that local government is a service business, with residents, businesses and visitors as its customers, so it’s crucial to earn and maintain trust with transparency and accountability regarding services.

“There is only one option for who provides police response, who plows the road and how the neighborhood park is maintained,” she said.

Before Envisio, the city only used hard copy reports and PDF digital reports on its website, she said. The dashboard makes the data user-friendly for analysis and drawing conclusions. The city highlights the dashboard and a summary of the performance measures in a newsletter that’s mailed to residents and businesses each September.

It’s also been helpful for staff, she said. To properly change policy based on performance measures often requires many years of reporting the same data over time. The dashboard allows the city to enter the new year’s data and automatically update the graphics and charts. While staff provide footnotes where helpful, they no longer draft long reports since they are no longer necessary; the data the graphics show allow users to make interpretations.

Community feedback on the dashboard is limited, but positive, she said. Most residents expect the data sharing, and most of the city’s services receive high satisfaction ratings on surveys.

She said local governments considering launching a public dashboard should consider how the information will be updated, as that requires internal programming and staff support. The governing body needs to understand the commitment and transparency required for sharing both positive and negative results.

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