Transparency test
Student project a good lesson
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Transparency in government is like riding a bicycle, or playing the piano. It can be difficult at first. But with enough practice, and a little help from a good teacher, it can become routine, even effortless.

And transparency in government should be as effortless as possible, both for those who manage the more than 270 local government units in Utah, and for their citizens.

That's the approach taken by the new Utah Transparency Project, a study, website and set of best practices thought up and fleshed out by a few students in the University of Utah honors Think Tank program.

The project is a push to encourage those who run all those local governments to take full advantage of current Internet, social media and streaming video technologies to make the inner workings of those governments as open to public review as possible. And it is some research done by those students to show those local government leaders the way to accomplish that goal.

After all, why should each county, city and town in the state have to go through the independent, time-consuming and possibly expensive work of figuring out just what they must do to be fully transparent, when there are a handful of enterprising college students who are more than willing to do the homework for them?

The project, formally launched Wednesday, comes with a simple list of best practices that local governments should aspire to. Basically, the idea is to routinely post as much information as possible — from contracts to meeting schedules — and make it all so easy to find that it takes the citizen no more than three mouse clicks to complete a search.

The point is that such practices should be considered fully routine, both by government officials and by those whose lives are affected by their actions. If posting the information is a strain, and reading it is a chore, then neither side in the transaction benefits. Everyone is confused. People who may not really disagree about important issues get into arguments or question one another's motives.

The Transparency Project — aided by the Sutherland Institute and supported by the Utah League of Women Voters, Common Cause, The Salt Lake Tribune and statewide media groups — seeks to avoid that. Local governments should sign on. And others, including the League of Cities and Towns, the Association of Counties, even the Utah Legislature, should contribute funds and expertise to help make it all a reality.

Because, as the student creators of the Transparency Project will tell you, yes, it will be on the test.