Demand for transparency in government is growing as ordinary citizens are increasingly losing trust in their elected officials. In the United States, studies by the Pew Research Center show that the public’s trust in the federal government continues to be at historically low levels, with only 19% trusting it to do what is right. Despite the many pledges that governments around the world are making on this front, including a multinational Open Government Partnership launched by President Obama in 2011, there remain many ongoing challenges in making citizens an active part of the political and democratic process. 

In recent years, technology, along with the efforts of many organizations and initiatives, has provided an unprecedented ability to access and share information to hold NGOs, companies, and many prominent figures accountable for their actions. 

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As technology becomes an integral part of our daily lives, citizens are now looking for their local and national governments to also implement new, innovative ways to meet the growing demand for access and transparency of what their governments are doing. 

While people tend to think of government transparency more at the national level, it is at the state and local levels, where ordinary citizens seek to interact more regularly and directly with their government, that there are even more opportunities for elected officials to implement cutting edge solutions to engage with their communities. Indeed, it is at the local level that government has a more direct and immediate impact in the life of constituents, which is partly why state and local governments in the U.S. enjoy higher levels of public trust than the federal government. 

Government transparency cannot be achieved without the citizens’ participation. Keeping citizens engaged in the political and democratic process starts by ensuring that government meetings are open and accessible to the public. That is why it should not be a surprise that while technology has revolutionized the way we consume information for business, entertainment, and education, citizens also have real, and oftentimes unmet, expectations to be able to access, search, and share public information in the same why way they do in other areas of their daily lives.

If a government is truly committed to access and transparency, it should be willing to invest in technology that allows it to go beyond merely making information available online. Transparency in the 21st century also means providing the public with, for instance, audio and video streaming of government meetings, with instant, real-time access to transcripts that can be searched to find every mention of a certain word or from a particular speaker. It also means being able to easily and quickly share audio, video, and text with colleagues, friends, and the general public, whether via email or social media. This technology can open new channels for government to obtain feedback from citizens, especially those who lack the time to attend public meetings or sit at home to replay a video or audio recording of those meetings. It can also ensure that public content is accessible and available to people with visual or hearing disabilities, and can be integrated in a cost effective and time efficient process. 

While there are many governments and NGOs that are making strides in this direction, there are gaps that need to be closed to be able to integrate these technologies and create a cohesive and user-friendly experience for citizens. In this regard, there are some lessons we can learn from the Italian Chamber of Deputies, which has partnered with the private sector to implement DIGITAL4DEMOCRACY, a powerful set of tools that incorporates innovative Automatic Speech Recognition technologies into government meetings, allowing citizens’ free and immediate access to indexed and searchable audio and video content, by speaker, keyword, or phrase, with a simple Google-like search encourages and expands citizens’ participation in the democratic life. 

Prior to DIGITAL4DEMOCRACY, transcription was a time-consuming and resource-heavy process: audio from parliamentary sessions would be recorded and dictated again by a worker at a computer programmed to recognize just his or her voice. The computer would then transcribe the text. DIGITAL4DEMOCRACY avoids the need for repeat dictation, directly transcribing the voice of each speaker and halving the time needed for transcription. It also automatically identifies trending and hot topics, giving citizens immediate access to crucial points of a public meeting, such as when votes are being cast, or legislation is being debated.

This technology has now been implemented in more than 200 cities across Italy, and continues to expand rapidly, improve government efficiency and transparency, as well as improving citizens’ trust in government.

Incorporating technology into public meetings not only enhances the ability to deliver a more open, transparent, and accessible government, it also provides the opportunity for citizens to be actively involved and engaged with the issues they care about. This, in turn, is ultimately the key to ensuring that government is more in tune with the needs of the communities it serves.


Enrico Giannotti is Vice President of Cedat 85, an Italian software company that has worked closely with the Italian Government to implement innovative technical solutions to enhance the openness and transparency of government meetings through DIGITAL4DEMOCRACY.