Best Practices Online
While Robert’s Rules of Order, parliamentary procedure, and other best practices for organizing and holding public meetings outdate our constitution, the standards for government transparency online have just recently been established and continue to evolve. The following are best practices that have been established through nearly a decade of work with hundreds of government agencies to create unprecedented transparency at the state and local level:
- Real Time - All government proceedings, meetings and hearings should be available through a live webcast. The ability to see and hear these meetings in real time is essential.
- On Demand - In order to improve convenience for citizens who cannot view meetings live, all
proceedings should be archived within twelve hours of the conclusion of any meeting. In order to achieve a twelve-hour or shorter turn-around time, it is important to provide real time encoding in a streaming audio/video format with automated Web publishing. This automation not only decreases the turn-around time, it also decreases the manual costs related to managing the digital records.
- Integrated Public Records - Because public meetings and government proceedings can be very lengthy, the usefulness of the content depends largely on the granularity and quality of the meta data. A best practice has been established for public meetings called an “integrated public record,” which is comprised of agendas, minutes, audio/video recordings, and any related digital documents—all archived, cross-linked, and searchable by keyword.
- ADA Compliance and Closed Captioning - Accessibility for all citizens is critical when considering government transparency. All audio/video content should be closed caption at 98% or greater accuracy level and all Web applications must meet ADA compliance standards. In addition, closed captioning should be utilized to allow transcript searches for all content mentioned in the meeting.
- Searchable - All records should be as searchable as possible, including all of the meta data in the public record as well as meeting transcripts or closed captioning.
- Downloading and / or Syndication - The ability for citizens to download and store any and all of the integrated public record elements and the ability to subscribe to these items through RSS feeds so they will be delivered to them automatically is easy to implement and critical in providing the best possible transparency services to the public.
- Sharing - The ability for citizens to quickly and easily share elements of the integrated public
record with others, including through their preferred social networks such as Facebook.
- Protected and Authenticated Records - It is Important that government agencies publish and store their meeting records on their own websites in order to ensure a protected and authentic record. Sites like YouTube can be used as powerful secondary distribution option to reach greater audiences, but should not be the only location content is published. In addition, it is important that government agencies ensure that citizen participation data like polls are protected and not manipulated by special interests.
- Formats and Data Standards - The government should be cautious when trying to dictate video formats because technology innovation moves more quickly than government legislation or mandates can be updated. For example, the webcasting standards for the State of New York’s Executive Order 3 list “Windows Media Player and Real Player” with no mention of Flash or other popular webcasting technologies. It is important, however, to set open data standards and requirements for widely used, non-proprietary formats.
- Free - Unprecedented transparency is created by increasing convenience for citizens. Anytime
those public records are only available through paid services, convenience and access are dramatically decreased.