Sunshine Week Shines a Light on Transparency in Government

March 16, 2020by Smarsh

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Sunshine Week (March 15-21) shines a light on American access to public information and government transparency, marked by speeches, workshops, proclamations, performances and news coverage nationwide.

The purpose of Sunshine Week is to protect democracy by ensuring an open, transparent government based on open records laws. The truth is that most public agencies seek to comply with open records requests, but they struggle for adequate funding to hire enough employees to process request intake, gather documents, apply necessary redactions, make copies and manage delivery—all within tight deadlines.

Electronic records have complicated this operation. Office conversations are now regularly conducted over text messages, instant messages, social media posts and through new collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. More employees are using their personal devices for work these days out of convenience, but this trend can come at a cost. Any work communications sent from personal devices are still considered part of the public record and they must be captured.

Most cities and states still struggle to collect these kinds of electronic records, let alone search and retrieve them from a central place. In fact, many clerks rely on manual systems to search for records and convert them into a format that can be reviewed and produced. In the worst-case scenario, clerks request emails from all users, print out those emails, send them to the legal team for review and then fax those emails to the requester—an incredibly inefficient undertaking.

A better option is to search within one application that automatically collects and stores comprehensive electronic communications from multiple channels and devices. A process that once took days or weeks can now take under a minute.

By creating a plan for personal devices that targets official government messages regardless of device or channel, you’re not only ensuring that these communications are captured and archived, but you’re also giving your employees the freedom to work when, where, and how they prefer—and saving significant money in the process.

For many governments, the problem with transparency is not due to apathy or a conspiracy to withhold information—it usually just stems from a lack of resources. Discovering a public records gap only after you’ve failed to turn up complete records opens your agency up to litigation, reputational damage and growing community distrust.

Are you up to speed on your state’s public records laws? Smarsh has created a map with the relevant definitions and outlines of records, meetings and litigation disclosures for all 50 states. If you’re not familiar with your state’s requirements or you need a refresher, take a look here.

Smarsh also has prepared a guide with practical steps to help public sector organizations develop a text message policy and retention process that improves the efficiency of fulfilling public records requests, while reducing the overall drain on resources and staff time. It also outlines some smart text recordkeeping practices, so you’ll be better prepared to respond to open records requests or other e-discovery needs when they arise. Download the guide here.

A functioning democracy depends on having an informed, educated citizenry and an open, transparent government. Technology enables transparency today by making it easier and less time-consuming for officials to respond to records requests.

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Smarsh
Archiving and Compliance Blog

Our Blog explores the news, trends and best practices in electronic recordkeeping. It’s about managing and getting value from your electronic communications data. It’s about satisfying legal and regulatory obligations. It’s all about turning compliance liability into business insight.

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Smarsh handles information you submit to Smarsh in accordance with its Privacy Policy. By clicking "submit", you consent to Smarsh processing your information and storing it in accordance with the Privacy Policy and agree to receive communications from Smarsh and its third-party partners regarding products and services that may be of interest to you. You may withdraw your consent at any time by emailing privacy@smarsh.com.