Competition Poses Thought-Provoking Questions

By Elena Sokolow-Kaufman, Manager of Government Relations & Field Resources

I recently learned that the Pioneer Institute, a public policy research organization in Massachusetts, is running a contest to collect the best responses to three questions around transparency and accountability in government.

This immediately piqued my interest for a couple of reasons. First, as the Manager of Government Relations and Field Resources at Mass Mentoring, I spend a significant amount of time working to ensure that the state invests in mentoring programs, and keeping programs informed of funding opportunities in the public sector.

Increasing transparency would provide information that could be used to develop a stronger case for support for the Mentoring Line Item and other funding for mentoring programs, and could also reveal new funding opportunities.

Second, the questions proposed move past a simple poll such as “Do you think government should be more transparent and accountable?” to questions that force us all to take a step back and think about what transparency in government really means, what it could accomplish and how it could be actualized.

In a difficult economy marked by significant state budget cuts to countless human service, youth development and educational programs, understanding where tax dollars are being invested is critical—both for government officials that need to make the most informed choices possible, and for nonprofits trying to both understand funding priorities, and advocate effectively for more resources.

The following are the three questions for the competition:

• What government information do you think people should have access to?
• In what format do you think this information should be delivered?
• How do you think technology can be used to make government more transparent and accountable to citizens?

So blog readers, before I ask you to respond to these questions, I will answer them myself (briefly).

I think people have the right to know where their tax dollars are going. I would like to see more than pie charts of large chunks of money and line-item budgets that give only readers who know exactly what they are looking for a very general idea of funding purpose.

I would like to have access to more detailed explanations of program purpose, what organizations are receiving these funds, as well as high-level outcomes for those programs. I think this information should be accessible through a searchable on-line database where people could conduct key word searches and drill down for more detailed information on grant programs.

Now, tell us what YOU think.