Asking the Right Questions

Many years ago I came across a fledgling non-profit group called "The Right Question Project."

Their goal was to help low-income parents secure a better education for their children. They decided the starting point was helping the parents to do one singular thing: formulate the right questions.

They found that the best way to make school systems accountable--and improve education--was to teach parents how to engage the system by asking questions. By asking the right questions, parents would better understand the school system, their own responsibilities and how, by working together, they could improve their children's education.

It was an approach that stuck with me all these years. The lessons of "The Right Question Project" have special relevance as I have come to represent thousands of taxpaying residents all across Boston.

In a lot of ways, we're in the same boat as those parents. The city's 40 some departments and $2.4 billion budget are incredibly complex. Few have the time and resources to study their intricacies, and the problems often seem daunting. But these challenges can be overcome.

This year I will be serving as chair of the Post Audit and Oversight Committee. The committee is responsible for "evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of city operations and programs."

Our goal is to create a meaningful dialogue that will result in a more open, responsive and better city government.

Making our government work smarter begins by asking the right questions. How can city agencies use computer technology to share information with each other and with residents and improve services? How can we use tax dollars more efficiently? Are we incorporating the best ideas other cities are using to work smarter?

For example, Baltimore residents can call one number - 311 - and find out in a moment when a crew is scheduled to repair a pothole. They can call the same number and report garbage dumped in a vacant lot--and find out when it will be cleaned up.

New technology can improve services for the public - and improve the workplace for public servants. And this is just one of many areas of government worth exploring.

Government should always be looking for ways to work smarter and serve citizens better. Yet starting a conversation about this isn't always easy. Asking questions is often seen as somehow threatening.

It's important to remember that when we ask questions it's not about finding fault or assigning blame. It's about accountability and good government, no more, no less.

As the new chair of this committee my hope is that we will be able to find new ways of talking to each other, in City Hall and out in the community, and making Boston a better city for all of us.

Sam Yoon, City Councillor at-Large, lives in Dorchester.