Boost Community Use of Engagement Tech

December 18, 2020 by Peter Weed

Boost Community Use of Engagement Tech

Technology that enables citizen engagement is becoming increasingly important to local government, schools, and special districts.

By enabling digital payments, permit applications, school interactions, utility usage reviews, pothole reports, and more, online and mobile solutions are meeting the needs of community members who expect the convenience of digital interaction. Building engagement also increases government efficiency, allowing public sector staff to increase capacity and focus more on tasks that can't be automated or performed online.

In addition, the public sector has seen the value of digital engagement when staff cannot work on site. For example, the ability to take payments electronically or enable remote permitting tasks allows government to function even if city hall is closed.

The results of engagement can be dramatic. For example, the city of Lexington, Nebraska, has saved 80 hours of staff time each month after switching from handling manual utility payments to taking online and interactive voice response payments. Barb Hodges, Lexington's finance director, explains, "We implemented a more efficient way to serve the public, which created more time for us to serve the public in other ways."

Building Adoption

In response to the benefits of digital engagement, the public sector is making significant technology investments in solutions such as citizen self-service and mobile incident reporting. But as it deploys software, the public sector faces the challenge of maximizing community adoption. Unfortunately, building adoption is not as simple as a build-it-and-they-will-come approach. Growing adoption requires letting your community know about the benefits of digital engagement. The tactics below offer a starting point for building your community's use of technology.

Digital Outreach

  • Digital displays: Any digital displays you have in your community are a great place to share news about new mobile apps, electronic payment options, or citizen self-service portals. Whether at a community center or below your city hall sign, a digital display is a great way to get noticed.
  • Email signatures: Include information about new engagement tools as a line in your staff's signature blocks. For example, "Save time with our new digital payment option" could link to a landing page that details the offering and its benefits.
  • Press releases: Share news about the launch of new digital tools. The release should highlight features and benefits and include guidance about learning more about the application and downloading mobile apps, if applicable.
  • Social media: Make the most of the channels you already have. Your current followers and subscribers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube are your ideal adopters. They are already engaging with you digitally. Simply let them know about opportunities to engage with you via mobile or through your website.
  • Website: Highlight engagement opportunities throughout your website. Provide easy-to-find store buttons for visitors to find and download mobile apps and include clear guidance on using apps and website access. Create landing pages with tips on how to use the technology and its features.

Print Outreach

  • Bill inserts: Including a message about electronic bill paying with paper bills is a great way to highlight the benefits of paying electronically.
  • Floor signs: Floor signs in queueing areas are impactful opportunities for you to highlight solutions that can get community members out of line at city hall and allow them to perform tasks such as permitting tasks in the comfort of their homes, 24/7.
  • Flyers: Any place your community members are waiting in line is a good spot to feature flyers about your engagement capabilities. Service desks, libraries, assessor's office, and other highly visited areas are great venues for flyers.
  • Posters: Take advantage of high foot-traffic areas throughout public-facing areas with posters to point to the benefits of using your new software. The posters should offer easy-to-remember-links to pages that walk citizens through the process. Don't forget elevators and bulletin boards.
  • Signage: Spread the word with free bumper stickers, vehicle wraps, and street banners.

A Better User Experience

Of course, community adoption of your tools depends on the software's ease of use. Community members' desire for improved engagement cuts across generations. Every generation, by a large margin, wants improved online interactions with clear, easy-to-use technology, according to a recent Government Engagement Across Generations report.

When assessing potential software, put yourself in the shoes of your community members. Your software needs to be customer friendly and have an intuitive user experience. A software vendor who has experience with the public sector will be able to help you deploy software that meets your community's needs and increases your operational efficiency.

In the end, the benefits of increasing electronic community engagement for both constituents and local government are clear. For example, Brady Prestwich, utility billing and collections supervisor for Boulder City, Nevada, has witnessed the benefits of electronic bill payment first-hand: "The number of our customers going online to pay bills and sign up for automatic payments increases each month. It will cut your expenses and free up your time, creating more productivity."

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