Reopening Through Engagement

January 18, 2021 by Meredith Trimble

Reopening Through Engagement

As local government leaders increasingly focus on reopening, much remains uncertain. The challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create new – and often urgent – resident needs. Vaccine rollouts require new communication and coordination efforts. All the while, many traditional, in-person channels of service and engagement remain closed or minimized.

Even prior to the pandemic, it could be hard for governments and their constituents to connect. Can most people in a city name more than one council member? Do people know how to file a permit application? What opportunities are there to volunteer? It’s not always the case that everyone – or even a majority – knows what’s going on in their own community.

In both contexts, an acceleration of digital processes and engagement channels is imperative. As the pandemic response evolves, residents need access to public health updates, business opening information, and more. Notifying residents of severe weather, public safety concerns, and even community events, are also ongoing considerations.

Solving for stronger, more effective citizen engagement is key to reopening cities and counties, getting back to business quicker and smarter, and ensuring thriving, connected communities.

Making the Connection

Recent research showed that demographic groups consuming local information through real-time digital channels receive government information much more frequently than those relying on newsletters or websites. This reveals an exciting opportunity. A cloud-based mobile app focused on citizen engagement is a unique, effective way to drive residents to services and maximize governments’ own program investments. In addition to connecting residents with news, services, and events, successful apps allow for two-way engagement, providing constituents with a one-stop shop for connecting with local government.

Reopening Strong

As reopening phases unfold, economically healthier communities will be ones that invite residents into the decision-making process. Civic engagement apps provide a fast, cost-effective, accessible way to facilitate two-way communication through surveys or “opinions” features capturing resident feedback. This not only substantively enhances policy discussion, it sets the stage for public buy-in of official decisions.

Technology that connects the business functions of local government with the public can facilitate business success and community development. Offering online or mobile payments, form submissions, and other traditionally in-office transactions ensures that residents can “do business” with government from anywhere. Digital access to permitting and business licensing functions further supports economic development. Non-emergency notification systems can even be deployed to boost support of local businesses. Creatively extending a civic engagement app’s use to allow residents to submit paperwork online can help control in-person numbers in buildings to maintain compliance with public health guidelines.

Changing the Game

Right now, local leaders are recognizing a uniquely high demand from constituents who want timely information about their communities. From voting locations to disaster relief, public safety to business continuity, there is a new urgency around easy, mobile access to services and information.

This mobile access also offers all stakeholders significant benefits. Increased awareness can bring increased attendance as things reopen for parks, recreation, street fairs, farmer’s markets, and more. When residents turn to an app, calls to city hall decrease, providing staff with freed time to attend to other priorities. Facilitating mobile reporting of issues also reduces calls or walk-in traffic while allowing staff to catch issues when they’re small, saving future large expenditures. Finally, when budgets are tight, using the app to promote local businesses preserves vital tax revenue.

These examples illustrate why citizen engagement is one of the foundational components of a successful government’s modern GovTech Stack. Without it, all too often community members are frustrated and feel locked out. This is particularly true after lengthy pandemic shutdowns. In recovery and reopening, active participation from all residents informs stronger policy, keeps business alive, and drives growth forward.

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