University of Wisconsin–Madison

Good Governance

What's the Problem & How are Progressives Addressing It

Dark money and revolving-door lobbyist influence have corrupted core government functions. Lack of transparency – from elections to policy implementation – hinders public oversight of public expenditures. Good government is a goal: instantiating ethical rules and regulations that facilitate public review and shine a light on bureaucratic conduct.

One of the core problems in this area is data and transparency. Frequently, data is not released or collected that could illustrate program success or failure. Campaign finance laws are regularly circumvented, and even legal political maneuvers can belie good governing principles. Progressive government solutions to good government center on promoting transparency, democracy, and accountability.

Available Local Levers & Targets of Reforms

Progressive local governments looking to adopt a robust good government plan have numerous options. Good progressive government begins with data and transparency. Expanding your cities data collection and creating an open data policy are essential for making informed and transparent policy decisions.

With proper data local progressive governments can improve their governance through responsible and equitable contracting, democratizing the sustainable economic development process, and modernizing the cities taxation and subsidy models. Cities at the cutting end of good progressive governance work to secure local democracy, ensure equitable access to local government, and employ fair policing.

Current Reforms & Tools to Fight for Them

Good local progressive governance begins with transparency which increasingly requires good and modern data. ProGov21 has excellent resources for a city looking to implement a best practices transparency and data program. The Mayor’s Innovation Project’s Cities at Work provides an overview of both these topics. For an overview of transparency see Harvard Business School’s report on transparency in government services. What Works Cities has written numerous excellent guides to modernizing local data collection including guides to the City Hall data gap,  adapting cities operational cultures toward data, and behavior insights for cities. ProGov21 also has example open data laws such as these from New York City and San Francisco. Finally, we have examples of data driven development such as the Twin Cities economic development score card.

Good government requires open and equitable provision of government services. An important step towards this goal is having a responsible and fair contracting system. ProGov21 has excellent guides from CAP and NELP’s guide to responsible contracting. We have guides to race and equity in contracting from Local Progress and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. The American Sustainable Business Council wrote this useful guide to contracting access for Women and Minority Owned Business. We also have policy examples including Seattle and Boston executive order on equitable public procurement, Portland, OR’s environmentally sustainable procurement policy, and New York City’s women and minority owned business contracting promotion ordinance.

Good governance also requires equitable and democratic development strategies. ProGov21 has numerous resources on community benefits and project labor agreements, such as this guide from the AFL-CIO. We also guides for thinking holistically about development such as these from the Partnership for Working Families and the CBLC’s, PolicyLink’s, and the National League of Cities. Good government as it relates to development ensures that development is democratized. ProGov21 has useful resources for this such as The Democracy Collaborative report on restoring community control of land and housing and Brookings guide to Metropolitan Business Plans. We have model ordinances on community oversight of development such as these superstore ordinances from Los Angeles, Alameda County, Santa Clara. King County, WA’s ordinance defining and requiring fairness and justice in their strategic plan is another excellent example of how to democratize planning.

Another progressive strategy for good development is increasing transparency of local tax and subsidy policies. ProGov21 has resources on progressive and transparent tax policies including guides from ITEP, the Tax Foundation, and Local Progress, as well as Chicago’s corporate tax disclosure ordinance. Progressive good governance should strive to break the broken corporate subsidy model of development. Good Jobs First’s report on corporate-focused economic development strategies undermines small businesses is an excellent place to start. They also have guides to city and county economic development subsidies disclosure and how tax breaks promote inequality.

When considering reorienting your local development strategy local government should consider tackling climate change. ProGov21 has excellent resources for greening your development strategy in an equitable way. The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) municipal primer on climate investment and the State & Local Energy Efficiency Action Network’s guide to benchmarking, rating, and disclosure of local government offer roadmaps to sustainable economies. Local investments in Green Municipal Bonds, issuing green bonds and leveraging catastrophe bonds are some of the methods of green energy financing.

Taking it to the Next Level

Good government in this century will require securing local democracy, fighting for equal access to city services for all residents, and creating a fair justice system. Successful democracy requires trust in its fundamental mechanism – elections. Insecure or unfair elections harm that trust and defeat civic engagement. Local authorities can promote election integrity through a pro-voter agenda and expanding voting rights, especially in underrepresented communities. Lowering the voting age, in-person absentee voting, automatic voter registration and securing elections are all critical to fully representative and fair elections. Ranked choice voting has seen increased use recently, and case studies show it can have progressive outcomes in certain contexts. Putting theory to action, San Francisco implemented an instant runoff voting ordinance and Takoma Park, MD lowered the voting age to 16 for local elections. Small donor matching funds in NYC mitigate some of the impact of independent expenditures by Super PACs. The American Sustainable Business Council has generated the case against money in politics on behalf of negatively impacted small businesses. Campaign finance laws from Alachua County, FL, New York City, and Ramsey County, MN show iterations of these reforms.

Progressive good governance should work for all citizens toward equal access to city services and institutions, including municipal systems of justice and law enforcement, including for immigrant residents. Information on protecting and enabling immigrant community municipal life can be found in ILRC’s report on local options for protecting immigrants, the Center of Popular Democracy’s guide to municipal IDs, Immigration Policy Center’s report debunking the myth of sanctuary cities, and WE Global Network’s case studies on immigrant resident leadership academies. Service access is facilitated by immigrant-friendly laws such as language access ordinances from Long Beach, New York City, and St. Paul, and similarly, the Mayor of Los Angeles issued an executive order on equitable workforce development (see also Immigration, Democracy and Race and Equity).

Community-police tensions can be reduced through preventing and mitigating police involved violence and body camera implementation in conjunction with a bias-based police profiling ban and an independent  police inspector general (see also Safety and Justice).

Helpers, Allies, and Other Useful Organizations


Mayor's Innovation home page

Mayors Innovation Project, our sister organization, is a national learning network for mayors committed to shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and efficient democratic government.


Remove Entry

Are you sure you want to remove this?

There was an error communicating with the server.

Please try again later.

There was an error while saving your data.

Please try again later.


Please try again later.

Update Page Content

You are leaving the page

Please make sure you saved all of the modules to avoid losing any data.