As you begin planning for Sunshine Week 2014, here are some perennial open government themes to inspire you:
Audit of compliance with records laws, which usually involves seeking the same type of record from a single agency in multiple jurisdictions, such as incident reports from all area police. Media associations and open government coalitions have sometimes organized audits that allowed statewide comparisons.
Audit and review of government websites, both for compliance with any laws that require the posting of specific public records and for their thoroughness in posting other public records that might be useful to citizens. These audits can also provide a critique of their user-friendliness.
Review of proposed open government laws, or exemptions to existing laws, that will be coming up in the state legislature or in one or more cities. It was legislative consideration of some 150 exemptions that prompted Florida newspaper editors to launch the first Sunshine Sunday, the predecessor to Sunshine Week.
Focus on the most serious open government issue(s) facing the state/community. These have sometimes focused on bureaucratic practices that work to defeat the law’s intended transparency, and the need for better training and compliance; other times pointing to shortcomings in existing laws, such as allowing wide-ranging executive sessions. One year, the San Jose Mercury News offered a model open government ordinance. A variation was subsequently adopted.
Spotlight Local Heroes, whether it’s an involved activist or everyday citizen who gets caught up in an individual battle for access to information or to open meetings and in the process makes a change that increases the public’s right to know.
Demystify public records. Many publications, print and online, have let people know both the range and specifics of information that is available online, most often focusing on those records that are helpful to homeowners and consumers. Many publications maintain substantial databases of useful public records information on their websites.
Plan a Sunshine Week event. Panel discussions and workshops open to the community are great ways to help people understand the importance of open government and how to utilize that access. This is often done in partnership with other state/local organizations, schools and others who can help defray costs and facilitate planning.
Highlight the role FOI plays in reporting and the community. During Sunshine Week, and all year, be sure to explain how access to public information helped develop news stories and was used by journalists and community members alike.