Legibility key to transparency, state officials say
July 25, 2019
SHERIDAN — As state officials continue discussions about how they can improve the transparency of Wyoming’s government, they have placed a greater emphasis on improving the legibility of government data.
Though early transparency efforts have focused on increasing access to the state’s spending records, state officials — including Gov. Mark Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines — have said access alone is not enough.
The state’s financial data is extensive and complex and, without the proper context, that data can be misleading or outright incomprehensible to the public.
The Wyoming Financial Transparency Working Group — which Gordon and Racines jointly created to address concerns about the availability of the state’s financial data — has made steps toward increasing access to financial records, but has found those efforts are limited without contextualizing those records.
State lawmakers considering transparency improvements are coming to similar conclusions.
Wyoming’s Legislative Services Office hasn’t published a Budget Fiscal Data Book since 1999.
The document was initially published as a hard copy biennially, which was primarily used by state legislators. But the LSO has published the document on its website for the past several biennia, giving public access to the document as well. The data book has undergone several revisions over the past 20 years, but LSO budget and fiscal administrator Don Richards told the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee earlier this month, the book is not particularly user friendly. Much of it contains outdated or “cumbersome historic” data, which clutters the document and makes it difficult to decode, he explained.
Richards said several legislators have expressed interest in improving the document, but the nature of the desired improvements has varied. He presented the committee with several potential improvements to the document, which ranged from including more hyperlinks and a glossary of terms to incorporating interactive tables throughout the document.
“Some of these things take a longer time and some of these things take a larger cost to impose,” Richards said.
Before the Legislature can decide which, if any, of those changes it wants to make to the document, Richards said the body first needs to consider some fundamental questions about the document, such as who and what it is intended for.
“Even speaking with legislators over the past two or three weeks, individual concerns for the databook vary pretty dramatically,” Richards said.
Richards proposed surveying Legislators about the data book to get a better idea of how comprehensively lawmakers want to revise the document.
Racines also revealed efforts at giving the public access to state financial data through a website her office launched this month.
The site, Wyopen.gov, allows visitors to search a database of expenditure data from several state government agencies. Launching the site is only an initial step, though, Racines said.
“WyOpen is not a final solution to transparency, but a tool to enable a better informed public,” Racines said.
She added that she hopes the site will evolve based on the feedback her office receives from both state officials and members of the public.
With lawmakers and officials considering the shape these platforms will take, Wyoming citizens have an opportunity to influence the direction of the state’s ongoing transparency efforts.