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Smart Community Engagement Tools for Every American City

Rajiv Desai | November 30, 2021

4 Minute Read

Citizen exploring modern community engagement platform on their laptop.

Trust in government is vital to a healthy democracy, influencing everything from how likely citizens are to engage in an election or offer an opinion on an issue, to how likely community members are to follow public health guidance or comply with local ordinances.

But building public trust requires a lot more than hosting public meetings or seeking resident input. It’s also crucial for local governments to take advantage of modern community engagement tools to deliver services efficiently and anticipate citizens’ needs before they arise.

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According to research from The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, perceptions about the performance of government agencies are strongly correlated with trust in government. Everyday municipal functions like service request management, permits and licensing, and code enforcement processes are major factors in the quality of citizens’ relationships to their cities and their perceptions of how well their local leaders are working for them. Considering the importance of these basic city services, it’s worth investing in up-to-date community engagement tools that make them as consistent, reliable, and as easy to access as possible.

Thanks to advancements in the technologies available to local governments, it’s now easier than ever to handle service requests, boost transparency, improve code enforcement and compliance, and provide community members with relevant information that’s tailored to their particular interests and needs. With the right tools, local leaders can build the kind of strong relationships with constituents that serve as the bedrock of a healthy democracy.

Here are a few community engagement tools every local government should consider:

Community engagement tool #1: Service request management for the 21st century

As consumer technology evolves, the community engagement tools that local governments deploy need to evolve alongside it, and service request management systems are no exception. Tools like 311 hotlines were cutting-edge when they began rolling out in the nineties, replacing a labyrinthine system for contacting city agencies with a single consolidated number for all non-emergency calls.

But a lot has happened since the nineties. Today, citizens can accomplish just about anything online with just a few clicks, from scheduling a dentist’s appointment to ordering dinner. Having to dial a hotline to put in a service request feels antiquated by comparison, and may even deter residents from making the service requests they need.

Adopting a modern system is the best way to bring service requests into the 21st century. From personalized, easy-to-use web portals and mobile apps, citizens are empowered to become the “eyes and ears” of the city, reporting problems like vehicles blocking driveways, broken water mains, or missing street signs, so city officials can handle issues swiftly. Residents can also receive up-to-date information about public notices and events tailored to their needs and interests, like street sweeping reminders, or notices about an upcoming summer concert series.

Unlike simple hotline systems, modern software platforms create greater transparency, allowing citizens to track their service requests from start to finish. Meanwhile, city workers can handle more requests in less time, thanks to automated workflows and Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) systems that streamline the flow of communications between residents and city workers.

Community engagement tool #2: modernized code enforcement

Reporting code violations like overgrown yards, cracks in sidewalks, or empty lots that have turned into dumping grounds should be quick and painless. But that’s hardly the case when residents have to dial a city agency and wait on hold, or use poorly designed websites that time out or force them to input the same information across multiple pages.

Modern code enforcement software is an effective community engagement tool that makes it easy for residents to participate in the upkeep of their communities, eliminating blight and building public trust in the process. From personalized citizen portals (the same portals as mentioned above), residents can receive notifications, issue complaints, and stay on top of all the code compliance requirements that apply to them.

When residents receive a violation, they should be able to handle it without printing off paperwork, writing a check, and mailing it to City Hall. High-quality code enforcement software takes some of the sting out of city-issued fees and fines, with secure, intuitive online payments that make taking care of a ticket as easy as shopping on Amazon.

Not only can local leaders make code compliance less taxing for citizens, but they can also put powerful data at the fingertips of code enforcement officers. With advanced reporting and analytics tools and advanced field capabilities, high-quality code enforcement software can place complaints and violations in context, helping city workers gain valuable visibility and empowering them wherever they’re working.

Community engagement tool #3: simplified permits and licensing

Prior to the internet era, citizens who wanted to adopt a pet, host a special event, or open a business often had to show up in person at City Hall, fill out paperwork, and wait for their permit or license in the mail. If there was an issue — like an outstanding fine, or an error on the application — the entire process could be derailed, and the resident likely wouldn’t know there was a problem until they received a notice in the mail days or even weeks later.

The last thing local leaders want to do is make it more difficult to live or do business in their communities, so it’s wise to treat the permits and licensing process as the powerful community engagement tool that it is. Smart permits and licensing software makes it easy for residents to check which permits they need, submit payments and applications, and track their status from personalized citizen portals.

Every city has different needs when it comes to permits and licensing, and those needs shift over time. During the pandemic, for instance, it became vital for restaurant owners in many cities to quickly apply for outdoor dining permits so they could serve customers seated on sidewalks, keeping residents safe and small businesses afloat. Effective permits and licensing software should be highly adaptable, allowing local leaders to make adjustments as needed without a time-consuming overhaul of the entire system.

A one-stop-shop for community engagement

As technology improves and residents’ expectations grow, local leaders should begin to gather every point of interface with citizens into a Virtual City Hall, where residents can take care of all their business with the city as easily as they order rideshare or get directions.

With the right combination of community engagement tools, integrated seamlessly and built upon a powerful software platform, local government begins to feel less like a collection of disparate agencies and more like a one-stop-shop for every service that citizens need.

Ready to learn more about what smart community engagement tools can do for your city? Check out this guide.

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