SmartBrief caught up with former Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty on the sidelines of the OpenGov Fall Festival earlier this month to talk about transparency in government. Fenty was the mayor of the District from 2007 to 2011 and is now a special adviser at Andreessen Horowitz, a lead investor of OpenGov.
How do you see the shift toward transparency trending among state and local governments?
A number of years ago, transparency was on the rise. You could truly feel how leaders at the local level were clamoring to share data — both internally and externally — to make their organizations more efficient. However, recently the momentum has slowed down. Transparency is certainly still on the rise, but the pace has slowed a bit.
OpenGov didn’t exist when you were mayor, but what kind of role does budgeting, performance and citizen engagement software like OpenGov play in running a city such as Washington, D.C.?
Washington, D.C., presents a very unique opportunity because it has an independent CFO. That person has to have a different data set than the rest of the executive branch. D.C. is also unique because the confluence of the executive branch, the independent CFO and the various agencies means different sets of data are moving around to different places.
Within some of the individual agencies like Water, for example, OpenGov is a powerful tool because they don’t always have teams of data scientists, but the software gives them quick access to important data. And better data usually leads to better decisions.
What role does transparency play in the relationship between elected officials and constituents?
A lot of elected officials are aiming to be more efficient, and transparency plays a huge role in that, because it is hard to prove you have been more efficient if you don’t have the data to back it up.
And transparency works both ways. The only way that people in need are going to get services from government is if they are able to hold government accountable.
Aside from your beloved Washington, D.C., do any other cities do a great job of leveraging data in the name of transparency?
Some of the other cities that are doing a great job with transparency are Baltimore, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles and New York. Those are some big cities, but they are doing a good job of putting data to work for their citizens.