Building Government Trust Through Transparency

November 16, 2022
Rob Foster
Chief Experience Officer

Lack of transparency in government processes is one of the biggest things that creates frustrated citizens and mistrust. Fixing this can make stronger communities.

Taking a Beating

Our democracy has taken a beating lately, especially at the national level. But states are feeling it too, with the spotlight shining on the election processes that some states are struggling with. It's never been more important for government to gain the trust of citizens. Fortunately, at the local level, it's still relatively easy to make huge improvements to this.

A quick Google search for "people frustrated with city permits" returns hundreds, maybe thousands of results from a swath of cities across the country. One news article after another paints a dim light on transparency and trust when it comes to permitting and licensing processes.

On Black Holes

For a lot of municipalities, the process looks like this: The applicant either gets a paper form from the gov office or downloads a PDF from the website. Then, they submit the application and wait. From that point on, it's basically a black box. The applicant can only get information about the process by calling or emailing multiple times. They have no vision into how many other projects are being fielded by the office or the lack of personnel or the juggling of multiple roles. So for the applicant, this creates a sense of "otherness" towards the municipality and the staff and engenders anger and frustration.

You may think that software just naturally solves this, but too often, software is designed with only the office workers in mind and so it too, fails to deliver a transparent experience for the applicant.

Things to Watch For

When a government office is able to offer a window into the goings on, there's a big impact in terms of lowering the temperature of all involved. Here's what a good window looks like for the applicant:

  1. Every step of the process can be seen from start to finish.
  2. The current project status is clear and easy to understand
  3. Changes to the process are communicated in real time
  4. Changes to documents involved in the process are also tracked
  5. The applicant can see who is involved
  6. There's a clear way to communicate with the involved parties
  7. There's clarity about who has the ball at any time

This is by no means an exhaustive list but these seven items represent the most critical touchpoint in a process. Failing to meet the bar set by this list will absolutely result in a frustrating experience for all parties. When the citizen is unhappy, everyone else is too.

Can those things be done in a paper process? Probably, but it wouldn't be easier. It would take an order of magnitude more work for the government staff. It's a foregone conclusion that in order to provide this level of transparency also requires software.

Broadly Applicable

Is this too self-serving for ZipFlow—a government software vendor—to talk about? We don't think so. Permitting is not the only place where this applies. This affects HR, Financial, Public Works, Community Engagement and many other types of government software. This is meant to be a guide for all of these as well.

The next time you're evaluating software for your organization, keep these principles in mind. Look for ways that the software you leverage can increase the trust with your community. Because after all, it's your community too.

Rob Foster
Chief Experience Officer
Rob has been designing amazing customer experiences for over 20 years. He’s crafted delightful software and led design teams for companies such as Ancestry, Vivint Solar, Kuali, and many others. His product design contributions on these teams have resulted in major accolades from customers and have contributed to higher customer satisfaction for the products.

More news


The Strong Towns Movement: Weighing the Pros and Cons

In this blog post, we'll explore the pros and cons of the Strong Towns movement, assessing its potential impact on the urban landscape.

Read Article

Turnover in City Planning Departments

This article talks about the role of software in employee turnover when it comes to government departments.

Read Article
ZipFlow Updates

ZipFlow's New Communication Feature

Our new communication feature will smooth out your workflow and make everything easier.

Read Article