Driving Digital Community Development

June 10, 2021 by Lily Rexing

Expert Insights From Marco Island, Florida, and Los Angeles County, California

Driving Digital Community Development

Government agencies and constituents alike benefit from collaborative processes. When agencies empower citizens to own the community development process, a stronger, long-term relationship can form. In the digital age, the power of collaboration cannot be understated. The message is clear: empowered communities start with empowered citizens.

A recent webinar, “What Are We Here to Build Today? Empowering Citizens to Drive Digital Community Engagement,” discussed just this. Lisa “Lee” Loewer, permitting manager for the City of Marco Island, Florida, and Art Vander Vis, assistant division head for Land Development for Los Angeles County, shared their experiences in prioritizing the customer to transform their agencies’ relationships with citizens and businesses.

Lisa Lee Loewer Art Vander Vis
Lisa “Lee” Loewer
Permitting Manager Building Services Division,
City of Marco Island, Florida
Art Vander Vis
Assistant Division Head, Land Development Division,
Los Angeles County, California

On the Impacts of COVID-19

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Marco Island and Los Angeles County were working to create customer-centric processes. Despite the difference in community sizes, both Marco Island and Los Angeles County were able to quickly shift to self-service platforms to serve their constituents in a new, virtual context.

In Marco Island, the number of permit applications held steady throughout the pandemic. This is a critical point, as the public sector at large was unsure of the impact the pandemic would have on community development. In this context, maintaining permit application volume was a significant win. To facilitate these steady numbers, the city implemented self-service processes and held virtual trainings and meetings.

In Los Angeles County, leaders implemented an online appointment system to accommodate those submitting applications. Both communities emphasized the importance of promoting constituent buy-in and successfully supporting remote work.

On Citizen Empowerment

Both panelists agreed that governments must examine their role as public servants and recognize when collaboration is more beneficial than pure regulation. Implementing self-service portals that are quickly and easily navigated can compel citizens to switch to these digital processes.

Marco Island regularly helps contractors, developers, realtors, and property owners accomplish their tasks in a collaborative manner. In the words of Lee Loewer, “If we have them helping themselves, using all of these online tools things should get done faster … Everything that we're doing is designed to make the customer service experience better, faster, and more accurate for the customer.”

Empowered customers can ease the load on government employees as well. According to Art Vander Vis, “Empowered customers can start permit processes by doing the pre-work online. The county’s key job is to review and approve plans so when they’re already submitted online, the focus stays on the review. This speeds up the process by cutting out the tedious work so staff can work more efficiently.”

On Government Transformation

For both communities, the introduction of customer service technology has increased transparency, reduced turnaround times, and strengthened lines of communication. Additionally, the governments can better monitor their own performance and workflows to create the best system for every party involved.

Technology can provide the foundation needed to build a collaborative relationship between citizens and government. Art Vander Vis noted, “We have a digital divide – there are a lot of people who still don't have easy access to internet … One thing government needs to focus on from a technology standpoint is to make sure the internet is everywhere, low-cost, and accessible to everyone.”

For local governments seeking to begin their own transformation journey, Marco Island’s Lee Loewer emphasized that citizen-facing, web-based solutions are essential for all facets of interaction. She noted that digital transformation doesn’t consist of a single solution. Rather, governments need to develop a long-term plan and digitize accordingly to meet the changing needs of constituents. A special focus should be on streamlining development and planning, as well as removing unnecessary steps. By focusing on key areas of citizen empowerment, governments can begin to see both tangible and intangible improvements.

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