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Open Data – Can citizens and government employees work together?

If you attended the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) annual conference this week, then you know citizen engagement is becoming a growing theme in local government.  Why?  Well, for one thing, with limited resources it makes sense to tap into the community when so many are willing to play a role.  And cultivating data is a great place to start.  Governments have so much data; more than they know what to do with or have the bandwidth to analyze.  The concept of open data is to provide transparency and create an environment of “open government”.  Data can hold many thought-provoking discoveries for educative purposes.  All it takes is the right people to unleash its powers.  Street Bump

Take the City of Boston for example.  They encourage their residents to take an active role in bettering their neighborhoods and community with the City of Boston Open Government site.  One really cool project they are piloting is something called “Street Bump”, created through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.  Street Bump is an innovative app that actually counts the number of bumps you hit on your commute through your phone.  Residents are the ones collecting the data and serving it up to the Mayor’s office.  Think of how much more efficient the app is than taking complaint calls about pot holes. The city can actually proactively go out and fix the problem.

Now this brings us to the question of can citizens and government employees work together?  Employees are public servants who are paid to serve the community.  And citizens are recipients of these services, whether good or bad.  But when it comes down to it, the community is what they both care about.  So why couldn’t they work together to make it better?   The answer is, they can, and they are!  As Beth Simone Novack, founder and director of the Governance Lab, said during her keynote presentation at the ICMA 99th Annual Conference, “Local government staffs have jobs that allow them to do work that matters. Most citizens want to do things that matter too. Data availability offers them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution”.

 Government employees are in a unique position to partner up with citizens to use data to bring solutions to real problems.  Keep your eyes open for more amazing things coming out of the move towards greater citizen engagement.

To read more about open data/open government and Beth Simone Novack’s keynote session, visit: Smart Communities and the Opportunities of Big Data

Are You Ready for Health Care Reform?

Compared to the historical budget crisis states and local governments have lived with over the last few years, I haven’t seen too many things rattle cages like the trepidation we’re experiencing now with health care reform.  Of top concern are questions about exactly how costly the legislation will be to implement against a backdrop of rising requirements for citizen services.  Government leaders are also trying to get their arms around legislation that is already driving job eliminations and cuts to employee hours on the heels of the staggering job losses that happened during the great recession.  This fear and lack of readiness across all industries compelled the federal government to issue a one-year delay of the employer and insurer reporting requirements, making the “shared responsibilities” requirements effective January 1, 2015.  The decision to push the date may have alleviated some of the pressure employers were feeling. However, it is still imperative that strategic organizations use this extra time to take a more astute approach to how they will manage the imminent changes associated with the ACA.

So how prepared are governments’ current systems/processes in terms of being able to track employee hours and effectively report compliance to the IRS? 

According to a July poll conducted by Governing Institute, 89% of respondents said their current tracking methods could provide visibility into their employee’s part-time or full-time status in accordance with ACA.  Seventy-eight percent said their tracking system could effectively report ACA compliance to the IRS. However, a dive into more specific questions regarding the precise methods used to collect ACA data painted a far less rosy picture.  Seventy-seven percent of respondents admitted they use, or plan to use, paper timecards or Excel spreadsheets to determine standard measurement periods, and a full 51% of respondents said they use manual time and attendance systems to track employee work hours and leave.  Multiplied across entire organizations, manual processes may prove to be a costly and unreliable response to legislation with requirements that are ever-changing and broad in scope.

To download a copy of Governing Institute’s full report entitled, How Will the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Impact Your Government Agency? visit http://www.governing.com/forms/gov-paper-step2-default%20/217150581