PIA Technology Solutions: HCPSS – Transparency in Public Schools
The Ombudsman’s Office has heard from various Maryland agencies that are interested in implementing technology for managing PIA requests. These agencies state that they are committed to transparency and to identifying potential systems that can improve their PIA response. The Ombudsman’s Office is in the process of interviewing agencies that have already implemented PIA management systems, and will be reporting its findings in a special series of Open Matters blog posts called “PIA Technology Solutions”. This series will highlight different technology solutions to PIA response management.
Technology can be used in a variety of ways when it comes to records management—from intake and case management systems, to comprehensive archival, retrieval, and review platforms. In July 2017, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) launched an online request, review, and response system that supports timely and transparent processing of PIA requests. This system allows the public to submit PIA requests through an online form, and follow the status of their requests in real-time as HCPSS works to respond. The system also makes summary information regarding each submitted PIA request available for public inspection, along with responsive documents previously provided to requestors.
The HCPSS online PIA tracking system was created from scratch completely in-house by members of the HCPSS Communications division. Staff conducted research on how similar systems function and worked collaboratively with Danielle Lueking, designated MPIA representative for HCPSS, to understand the flow of a typical PIA request from receipt, to review, to response. “Being able to work directly with the developer gives you added flexibility and a deeper understanding of specific needs,” states Ms. Lueking.
She recommends using in-house resources when available because it ensures everyone involved is “working towards the same goals related to transparency and access to information for parents and the community.”
Also, because the HCPSS online PIA tracking system was created in-house, there was a low development cost. Although there was cost associated with an additional server—because the system was the first dynamic application HCPSS hosted—HCPSS now has additional dynamic applications that share the available resource.
This technology solution allows HCPSS to effectively manage the PIA process. “A key benefit,” says Ms. Lueking, “is that we are able to make more public records readily available online. Many times, the same information is sought by different requestors, which they can find through the built-in search feature. In this way, we are using technology to help meet the intent of the PIA to provide records with the least cost and delay. It’s an invaluable tool—both for ease of public access and for use internally to track custodians of records, identify keywords to find trends in requests, and monitor timeliness of responses.”
~This Blogpost was written with the assistance of Danielle Lueking, MPIA Representative, HCPSS. For additional information about HCPSS’s PIA response solution, contact Ms. Lueking at 410-313-6820, or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to submit an article to this series or share your experiences with PIA technology, contact Janice Clark at email@example.com, or 410-576-6560.