This post was authored by Alisha Green.
Open meetings laws are an essential element of open government. Ensuring public access to government decision-making processes can help create transparency, allow for accountability, and encourage public participation in the choices being made on the public’s behalf.
For open meetings laws to live up to their full potential, they need to reflect the opportunities provided by recent advances in technology. Governments are already starting to update public records laws to take advantage of these kinds of advances, and open meetings laws are overduefor undergoing similar revisions.
Open meetings generate an abundance of public records, including agendas, minutes, votes, and more. Sharing these records online as open data is becoming increasingly easy and financially feasible. This opportunity is often missed by local governments, but that’s starting to change. States, counties, cities and towns across the country are finding ways to use open data to bolster open meetings, sharing information online about decision-making processes in easily accessible and reusable formats. Open data is helping in ways beyond making information more easily accessible, too. It’s also inviting the public to participate in the decision-making process in new ways — a key component of any open government initiative.
Recommendations for using open data to improve open meetings
Just as the public records process is being updated to take advantage of new technologies, it’s time for an overhaul of how governments approach open meetings. Some of the key principles of open data can be applied to broad improvements of open meetings policies. Here are some of the ways open data can be used to help bolster open meetings:
1. Post the open meetings law online
Open meetings laws are public accountability and access policies, and as such it makes sense to post these laws online where anyone can easily review their rights to access government. Posting these laws online also demonstrates that open meetings are part of the values, goals and mission of the government for keeping the public informed and engaged.