Local government’s role in citizen engagement: It’s now digital
Digital technologies have transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, and community members now expect dynamically integrated technology from their local government. But digital transformation is about more than just solving immediate processing needs. It is about transforming how citizens interact, relate to one another, and lift each other up to create a more equitable community.
Even with local governments facing intense pressure, competing priorities and shrinking budgets, they must prioritize digitally transforming citizen engagement. The global pandemic and civic unrest highlighted the importance of local government leaders connecting with constituents to foster a sense of trust and transparency within local communities.
In a new Center for Digital Government survey of 169 local government leaders, respondents addressed using digital tools to drive citizen engagement, build trust and transparency, and why this is more important than ever.
Challenges and opportunities: Digitally transforming citizen engagement
Rapidly changing technology has transformed how we live, how our society operates and how we conduct business. The rise of digital communication and community-making online has become central to the way we engage with one another, leaving local governments little choice but to adopt these technologies and adjust to the societal shift or risk losing a path to reach their citizens.
In the same survey, many local government leaders reported increased citizen engagement after using and implementing digital tools, noting a 51 percent increase in overall constituent participation. Modern digital engagement tools and technologies—like virtual meetings, social media, email and online payments—create environments that can simultaneously foster both citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-state engagement in one place. More than 60 percent of the local leaders surveyed said digital engagement activities like virtual meetings and social media communication improved government transparency and expanded access.
Despite the growing number of opportunities, local governments still face unique challenges when it comes to digital transformation. Administrative and local government leaders cite their top three challenges to citizen engagement as constituent participation in virtual events, difficulty overcoming equity issues and integration issues. Local government leaders still rank citizen engagement among their top IT priorities for the next several years, second only to cybersecurity. They understand how transformative digital tools can be with 66 percent noting it increased government transparency and accountability.
Modernize local government and citizen engagement
Citizens expect their local governments to offer the same digital experiences that consumer brands provide. In fact, tech adoption in the private sector is often a leading indicator of changes we can expect to see in the public sector. Drawing from the private sector, government agencies can use a combination of AI, automation and cloud to integrate and streamline services to meet constituents’ needs freeing up administrative time for focusing on value creation.
Implementing digitally advanced technologies doesn’t just satisfy the demands of citizens. Digital tools can also broaden citizen engagement. For example, these applications can foster and seek citizen input on local budget allocation, strategic planning cycles, community programming and policy formation. In 2020, despite the restrictions of the pandemic, 28 percent of surveyed local leaders reported digital tools helped residents give feedback on policies and initiatives.
Using digital technology to break down silos
Many local governments had already started to prioritize digital transformation as the onset of the pandemic accelerated the adoption of private-sector technology trends that once seemed impossible. However, more is needed to break down the echo chambers in our online and offline communities and the inter-agency silos that plague our local governments.
Without regular access to digital services and tools, some citizens will continue to struggle to engage with their local government and communities. Digital transformation and greater citizen engagement go hand-in-hand, and local leaders see this. Of those surveyed, 21 percent report the implementation of digital tools to increase citizen engagement translated into greater participation among previously excluded individuals. While 37 percent of local government leaders cite the integration of new technologies with existing systems as an integral challenge to overcome.
When adopting new digital citizen engagement technologies, administrative leaders, CIOs and IT directors need to consider user-friendly solutions nimble enough to integrate seamlessly and incorporate an omnichannel approach to reach the most citizens. By putting employees and citizens at the center, government organizations can better use technology to break down the silos we find across our local governments and communities.
Digital communications are both horizontal and vertical, and local governments must harness these tools to listen, respond to and engage more citizens. Introducing new digital tools allows for greater amounts of information sharing and lowers entry barriers into public discourse. By generating more citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-state engagement, we ultimately transform the democratic process and strengthen the diverse voices in the public sphere—leading to greater community-making both on and offline.
Andrea Facini is a senior executive currently serving as president at Active Network, a Global Payments company. Over the course of 25 years, Facini has helped both private equity owned and public companies of any size transforming the way they build their products, services and go-to-market strategy by focusing on value creation through the implementation of operating principles and best practices across nearly all functions of an organization. He holds a B.A. in Art History from the University of Fine Arts and Communication in Florence, Italy where he graduated Summa Cum Laude.