OK – tell the truth… How many people do you think really read that annual governmental financial report from cover to cover? Do we (CPAs and governmental officials) really think that citizens of a municipality, county, or state actually understand all of the wonderful financial data – or that the report even includes the things they really want to know about their local government? I suspect we all know and agree on the answer to these questions. There’s just too much data required by financial reporting standards that is either difficult to understand for non-accountants or admittedly just not interesting to read.
So how does a governmental entity effectively communicate the information that the average citizen wants to know—and in a format that is easy to follow? One answer is to prepare what is known as a “Citizen-Centric Report” or “Popular Report.” This type of reporting is recommended and supported by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA). It is not a replacement for the governmental entity’s required financial statements, but instead it is a separately prepared report that’s made available in printed form and on the government’s website.
Main Purposes and Goals of Citizen-Centric Governmental Reporting
The principles of popular reporting are based on several primary points encompassing:
- Governments should provide their citizens with understandable data about their activities—both financial and otherwise.
- The report should be visually appealing to the reader—using photos and graphs rather than text.
- Information should be concise and to the point–and limited to 4 pages.
What exactly should be included in this four-page Citizen-Centric Report compiled by a government?
Page 1 – Strategic Objectives
- What are we required to do?
- Mission and goals
- Demographic information
- Per capita information
Page 2 – How Are We Doing?
- A report on our performance on key missions and services
- May include a comparison to performance metrics, outcomes of non-financial activities, comparisons to previous years
Page 3 – Financial Data
- Charts and simple graphs that depict summaries of the costs for servicing citizens
- How those costs were paid
Page 4 – A Look Ahead
- What are our future challenges and issues?
- What do we see in terms of major changes in the local economy, as well as services to the citizens?
- Projects planned or underway
Ultimately the government’s goal with popular reporting is to demonstrate in a straightforward manner what has been done with the citizen’s tax dollars. And in the end, isn’t that what a well-run government wants its citizens to know?
According to the AGA, since the 2007, more than 400 state and federal government offices have produced Citizen-Centric Reports, and the AGA has created a Certificate of Achievement for those governments that meet more of the report’s requirements. For an example report, visit the published Citizen-Centric Report for the City of Tallahassee, Florida.