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Outside Inspiration for Citizen Engagement in Local Government

Rajiv Desai | March 22, 2022

4 Minute Read

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Companies like Amazon and Uber have built powerhouse brands by creating easy, enjoyable experiences for their customers. It makes sense: When a product is similar or even indistinguishable from that of competitors, ensuring customers have a superior experience with your brand gives you an edge.

Profit-driven private companies have an obvious incentive to streamline processes, create engaging, pleasant-to-use customer portals, and remove friction at every point along a customer’s journey. But local governments also have major incentives to provide the best possible “citizen experience” to their residents, and the private sector offers a useful blueprint for making that goal a reality.

When taking care of everyday municipal business is as easy as shopping online, local leaders can build a resident base that’s active, engaged, and supportive when it really counts.

citizen engagement guide

Why Citizen Engagement in Local Government Matters

Local governments have many critical goals, from supporting local businesses, to protecting residents from crime or fire, to providing programs that keep kids safe and active after school. To be accomplished in any meaningful way, each of these goals requires trust, participation, and support from residents.

When citizens have a positive perception of what it’s like to engage with their local government, they’re more likely to trust and rely on government systems in the future. According to one study from McKinsey, residents are nine times more likely to say they trust a government agency if they’re satisfied with its service. But if they find engaging with that service difficult, confusing, or frustrating, they’re more likely to mistrust that agency, and avoid further engagement unless it’s absolutely necessary.  

McKinsey stat about trust in government

For this reason, it matters a great deal whether or not it’s easy and convenient for your residents to take part in a public meeting, pay a fine, or find answers to their civic questions. High-quality citizen experiences make it easier for people to engage with their local government, which boosts public trust and helps government agencies do everything they do better.

Digital Tools for Citizen Engagement in Local Government

So, how can we create high-quality citizen engagement in local government?

Luckily, there are lessons from consumer-focused companies that illuminate the way. By adopting user-centric systems that feel personal, responsive, and easy to use, local governments can offer residents an experience that’s on-par with that of private sector companies.

Here are a few tech-driven features that will help them do just that:

Omnichannel Citizen Self-Service

If you wanted to order a pizza, you’d have several ways to do that. You could call a pizza shop, use a delivery app, or place an order online.

Similarly, when residents need something from a local government agency, they expect to have multiple ways to get it. They may call 311 to ask a question, or send off a quick message to a text bot, or visit the city’s mobile app or online portal.

These omnichannel options not only provide residents with the self-service capabilities they prefer, they take pressure off of call centers and in-person transactions, allowing local governments to reserve more of these resources for the residents who really need them.

Major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago have launched mobile 311 apps to give residents more options for citizen engagement, with numerous smaller cities across the country following suit. The future of community engagement is more than a hotline and even more than an app; it’s a virtual city hall that seamlessly integrates all channels — like hotlines, social media, apps, or web portals — giving residents up-to-the-minute information, wherever they choose to engage.

Personalizing Citizen Experience

When government systems are well-integrated, residents don’t need to input the same information across multiple channels, or explain to a new representative what they’ve already discussed with multiple other representatives. Integrated municipal systems communicate with each other automatically, keeping city workers in the loop and residents feeling like their local government is responsive to their unique personal needs.

Personalizing citizen experience also means targeting information to the residents it interests or concerns. When your software automatically directs your message to the people who need to hear it, you can cut through the endless scroll of updates and notifications your residents receive each day, making them more likely to hear you when it counts.

A Next-Level Employee Experience

Want to create a better citizen experience? Start by improving employee experiences.

A 2020 study by Forrester Research found that 21 percent of government employees reported a poor on-the-job experience, compared to 14 percent of private sector workers. Worse, this low-quality employee experience contributes to low productivity: Just 61 percent of public sector workers reported they were productive at work on most days, compared to 71 percent of private sector workers.

Forrester research on employee experience

According to the study’s authors, government workers have poor employee experiences when they feel disempowered or hamstrung by obstacles that make it impossible for them to perform well. To address this issue, the state of Michigan removed more than 3,000 unnecessary administrative rules, which led to a measurable boost in both employee experience and customer experience.

Another reliable way to empower public sector workers is making sure they have the tools to do their jobs effectively. Software that streamlines and automates workflows, makes large, complex caseloads manageable, and makes it easy to track, document, and follow up with each and every resident request will not only improve employee experience, but citizen experience as well.

Using Data to Boost Citizen Experience in Local Government

Private companies are continuously leveraging data to understand their customers’ needs and desires, and then adjusting their service offerings accordingly. To create a high-quality citizen experience, good data is also essential.

Agencies at all levels of government are already using data in incredible ways. FEMA, for example, has piloted pop-up cell towers that use cellphone data to locate residents in areas affected by natural disasters. At minimum, local governments should gather data about the issues residents are having, how different departments or programs are performing, and how residents prefer to engage.

Of course, gathering good data is just step one. The right software will make visualizing and drawing actionable insights from your data easy, so you can put it to work improving citizen experiences in your community.

Always Be Innovating

Just like private sector companies, local governments have had to innovate rapidly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to meet the needs of the people they serve. The crisis proved it was possible for public sector agencies to act with agility, updating processes and adopting new technology as the circumstances evolved.

Early in the pandemic, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (DWS) was, like many state workforce agencies, overwhelmed by an unprecedented volume of calls from residents making unemployment claims. DWS moved fast to adopt a new system for routing calls, which included a virtual assistant that could answer the most common questions. The result was a deflection of about a quarter of all calls, which meant DWS workers could keep up, and distressed residents weren’t met with a busy signal.

As the pandemic subsides, local governments should hold on to that spirit of innovation. Even outside of a crisis situation, it’s important for public sector agencies to update processes and modernize technology to create the best possible experience for citizens.

Improving Citizen Experience in Local Government

Private sector companies are raising residents’ expectations for convenience, flexibility, and personalized service from public sector agencies. By updating systems and embracing new technology, local leaders can meet these expectations and even surpass them.

Ready to learn more about how smart citizen engagement software can improve citizen experience in local government? Check out this guide.

citizen engagement guide