There was a time when civic engagement meant encouraging citizens to walk into City Hall to ask questions and file paperwork. Then, when the Internet became a permanent fixture in every home in America, citizens wanted on-demand access to information and resources. Soon, merely having a website was not enough.
To satisfy citizens, local government websites had to offer robust self-service features that enabled citizens to simplify their government interactions by conducting transactions without ever leaving their home. Next began the mobile revolution. Suddenly, civic engagement meant connecting to citizens on a personal, immediate and public platform. Social media became a standard communication strategy and websites were redesigned to be mobile optimized.
Today, technology is again redefining the terms of civic engagement. As citizens become more reliant upon, and comfortable with, constant connectivity, they are seeking more meaningful connections with brands, entities and even their civic leadership — and they want such interactions embedded seamlessly into their daily information gathering behaviors.
If such a concept seems too theoretical to be practicable, the truth is the technology already exists to enable such engagements, and it is proliferating rapidly thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), or the interconnectivity of Internet-enabled devices. Such devices are allowing citizens to learn the weather report by giving their personal home assistant a voice command, or re-order groceries from their smart refrigerator and even send their daily health stats to their doctor from a wearable health monitor.
With such convenience and the ability to share data and build meaningful interactions between individuals and the entities they rely upon, imagine the capabilities for local government to share information and stimulate two-way dialogue with citizens as they engage in their community and civic participation opportunities using this latest breed of digital technology.
Believe it or not, any municipality of any size or budget can build such impactful, multi-touchpoint interactions. The key to success is to adopt the latest digital civic engagement model, known as content-as-a-service.
Content as a Service: The New Model for Citizen Engagement
Content as a Service is more than the next trend in information technology. It is the future of how entities that require a multi-channel communication strategy will reach their audience. For local governments responsible for communicating critical information that will impact the daily lives of its citizens, the need for a diversified communication strategy has been essential for decades. What’s changing, however, is the number and variety of touchpoints available to reach citizens, the popularity of such outlets and citizens’ willingness to utilize them to engage with brands and public entities.
The Technology Fueling Content as a Service
From a technical perspective, Content as a Service refers to any form of digital content that is created and developed independently from its digital output method. While the old workflow model that fueled your citizen engagement strategy meant a boil water notification had to be written and published separately via your website, mobile app, push notification system, email, social media, in-office kiosks and digital road signage. Today, it means the message is written and published one time and can be accessible by citizens via any of the communication platforms mentioned, in addition to wearables, smart televisions, voice-controlled personal assistants and whatever else the IoT thinks of next.
How to Offer Citizens Meaningful Services Using the IoT
If you are still unsure how your city, county, village or township could benefit from leveraging a Content as a Service model, consider these very attainable scenarios:
- Facility Cost-Control. Internet-enabled HVAC systems installed within local government facilities can send data to a central hub where heating and cooling systems can be optimized to ensure idea; comfort for citizens when buildings and rooms are in use and minimize wasteful spending.
- Encourage Tourism. Digitally connected cities can make available mobile app push notifications and text messages to notify nearby residents of ongoing local events, popular venues and volunteer opportunities.
- Voice-Accessible Website Content Management. Allow a staff member with mobility issues to add an event to your municipal website’s event calendar using a voice command given to an Amazon Echo personal home assistant.
- Predicting Weather-Related Hazards. By using data sensors in riverbanks, experts can warn government officials of rising water levels that could indicate an impending flood risk for nearby residents.
- Public Transit Convenience. Community buses, trains and trolleys fitted with GPS tracking technology would enable commuters to know the exact location of public transit vehicles at all times to better plan their commute.
- Monitor Pollutants. Smart sensors placed outside of public facilities can monitor the air for increased levels of pollen, smog and other pollutants, and notify civic leaders as well as citizens that have subscribed to receive air-quality alerts.
At the core of every one of these examples is a central theme: Local government using technology to help citizens to live their lives better. Whether the improvement is marked by greater convenience, improved health and safety or job enablement, the most significant benefits lie in allowing local government to accomplish its core function: improving the quality of life for its residents — its taxpayers and voters.
The Future is Now
It is time to start preparing your community, and your engagement model, for the future. It is about more than keeping up with technology trends or proving to citizens that your municipality is innovative and digitally-minded. It is about building a better information delivery model. It is about personalizing local information and content to encourage citizens to stand up and take action when a matter impacts their lives. It is about playing an integrated, relevant role in citizens lives at a time when we are more connected in more ways than ever before. It is about the role of local government — the same role it has played for generations — as responsible, transparent guardian that turns roads into neighborhoods, and municipalities into communities and the places we live into the places we call home.
About the Author
Deb McNew began with CivicPlus as a trainer and consultant and over her tenure worked with hundreds of municipalities all over the United States and Canada. She now holds the position of General Manager for its CivicEngage division and is a Vice President and member of CivicPlus’ executive leadership team. Deb has a very passionate vision of how the municipal website can and will help government work better for the staff that work there and the citizens it serves. She works to push our products and services to be the best of class to deliver on that vision.