Tweeting Towards Transparency (Part 1)

August 14, 2009

A few local governments in Cook County have recently begun utilizing Twitter, a free micro-blogging website, in order to provide quick updates on relevant developments and information about governmental services. These local governments’ Twitter accounts supplement their websites by providing additional content and by aggregating information displayed on various pages of the government’s website or websites. Although Twitter updates are short (they cannot exceed 140 characters), they can improve government transparency by making information about governmental activities and services more accessible to the public.

This blog post is the first of a two-part series reporting on notable examples of local governments in Cook County using Twitter and how these Twitter accounts have improved their transparency. Today’s blog post will focus on how the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Twitter account makes information about the activities of the county board more accessible to county residents.

Cook County Secretary to the Board of Commissioners Matthew DeLeon manages the board’s Twitter account, which aggregates some information already available to the public (e.g. board meeting dates and agendas) on different pages of the Secretary to the Board’s website onto a single page. Mr. DeLeon posts links to agendas for county meetings, start and stop times for county board and committee meetings, and brief summaries of discussion on important agenda items and actions taken on all agenda items in real-time. Twitter users can opt to “follow” the board’s Twitter account and receive these updates directly to their Twitter home page. The Twitter account relays these updates in real-time, which allows the public to track the proceedings of board and committee meetings as they happen.

An example of tweets from the Cook County Board's Twitter feed

The county board’s Twitter account has improved transparency at Cook County by enhancing county residents’ ability to obtain rapid and reliable information about the county board’s actions. The county board’s Twitter page provides a concise overview of discussion and actions taken at county meetings that supplements information disseminated on the county website and in the media. The board’s Twitter page also comes in handy in instances where the county boardroom reaches capacity and some members of the public are not allowed to enter. Members who are turned away from the boardroom can use Twitter to track the meeting’s proceedings until they are allowed to enter the meeting.

Another example of tweets from the Cook County Board, including a link to an agenda and County news

The Cook County board’s Twitter account provides an example of a local government Twitter account that shares information about the actions of its legislative body; however other local governments in Cook County have leveraged Twitter as a marketing tool for government resources and services. Part 2 of “Tweeting Towards Transparency” will discuss how the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and Cook County Assessor’s Office are using Twitter to market their services and to share useful information with county residents.