Studies: How Tech Can Improve Citizen Engagement

In 2015, Pew Research Center benchmarked public sentiment on government initiatives that leverage open data streams to improve services. In 2017, three cities created the playbook for civic-technology initiatives.

Editorial Note, April 18, 2018: Since the studies discussed in this article were released in 2015, a number of local and state governments have not only embarked on open government and government performance initiatives, some have gone even further -- bringing high-speed connectivity to more people in order to increase citizen engagement. Next Century Cities recognized Raleigh, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Kentucky, with the Benton Next Generation Engagement Award for using next-generation broadband to improve civic engagement. Out of the award came Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Citizen Engagement, a playbook published in 2017. It's available to review and download below. The playbook builds from the premise:

"Digitally enhanced governance initiatives lie on a spectrum of engagement – from placing basic informational content about government services online, to empowering community members to shape the decisions made by locally-elected officials."

Citizen Perceptions of Data

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey to benchmark public sentiment on government initiatives that aim to leverage open data streams to improve services. The survey aimed to gauge:
  • People’s awareness of government efforts to share data
  • Whether these efforts translate into people using data to track government performance
  • If people think government data initiatives have made, or could make, government performance better or improve accountability
  • The more routine kinds of government-citizen online interactions

The survey analyzed citizen perception of government data use in the early stages at the local, state and federal levels. Overall, the public seems optimistic of open data government initiatives – specifically with improving accountability. While most participants use online data portals to find basic government information, the vast majority are not using the information to monitor government performance.

The Findings

The survey revealed:

  • 65 percent of Americans have used the internet to find data or information about government in the last 12 months
  • 19 percent could think of an example of where the local government did a good job providing information to the public about data it collects
  • 19 percent could think of an example of where the local government failed to provide enough information about data and information to the public
  • 56 percent hope open data can help journalists better cover government activities
  • 53 percent hope open data can make government officials more accountable
  • 49 percent expect open data to improve the quality of government services
  • 48 percent want open data to allow citizens to have more impact on government affairs
  • 45 percent predict open data to enable government officials to make better decisions

The majority of respondents are comfortable with the idea of government agencies collecting and sharing public data on a variety of platforms. Yet many remain cautious of providing their own data to the government such as mortgage information.

Driving Engagement

According to a recent IDC Government Insights report governments should invest in 3 rd platform technologies – cloud, mobile, social and big data - to effectively drive citizen value and engagement. The study predicts more than 50 percent of government agencies will direct at least 25 percent of their citizen engagement budgets to 3 rd platform technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions by 2020.

New digital channels coupled with a more comprehensive approach to redefining the citizen experience will align the goals of values of local leaders and residents. The research identifies five maturity stages for the citizen experience to help governments better understand the needs and goals of each group and select appropriate technologies to meet these expectations:

  • Ad hoc: Citizens request information across multiple channels
  • Opportunistic: CRM applications enable front-end automation so citizens can access information on their own
  • Repeatable: Digitization of workflows across channels allow citizens to handle services through full automation
  • Managed: Digital self-service allows citizens to show across multiple agencies and enables interactive handling of citizen requests
  • Optimized: Omni-channel citizen experience ensures consistent, convenient experience at very low cost to the government

The research suggests investment in 3rd platform technologies and the Internet of Things will help governments reduce costs while improving overall performance and accessibility. These interactive solutions better deliver new capabilities to public agencies and residents, while optimizing resource allocation and improving the way services are delivered.

Lack of Awareness

One major constraint many public agencies face when considering investment in new technologies and the IoT is a lack of knowledge. A recent survey found only half of American adults are familiar with the term Internet of Things – which refers to the network of physical objects embedded with sensors and technologies to collect data that will guide decision making to improve services.

Because many Americans are unaware of how the IoT works with existing infrastructure and services, 85 percent have concerns about the increased risk to breach of security and privacy. Furthermore, 70 percent fear IoT investment will have a negative impact on daily interactions and 51 percent are concerned about technical issues and the cost of repairing them.  If the public had a better understanding of how IoT and other new technologies are driving efficiency, there may be more support behind these investments.

Review and download lessons on tech-powered citizen engagement from Next Century Cities:

5 Lessons for Tech Powered Civic Engagement by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

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