Spring is coming. It has been a long winter and an even longer year, but with vaccine distribution accelerating and warm weather approaching, it feels like better days are just around the corner.
While there will be no shortage of analysis about how the pandemic impacted state and local governments - and how those governments reacted during and after - it is clear that rebuilding and nurturing public trust in government is essential. Local governments are the first-touch of governing that citizens engage with. Like corporations, municipal, county, and state governments are working to build positive brands. A great brand acts like a magnet, attracting dynamic businesses, visitors and engaged citizens that improve quality of life and makes a community thrive. One important way to build a community’s brand is through a strategy based on trust. That being said, in times like these where government mandates and requirements are impacting the daily lives of people around the United States, this task is more difficult than ever.
Luckily, with strong civic engagement, local governments can make a positive impact on their community, and in turn, build trust.
What is Civic Engagement?
The definition of civic engagement, as, defined by Thomas Ehrlich in his book, Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, is the process of working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. The term civic engagement describes the promotion of the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
The more that constituents, through their active participation and electoral participation feel heard and can see that their government is willing and able to address issues of public concern, the better social cohesion is.
Below we've laid out some types of civic engagement that local governments can foster to improve constituent engagement and benefit the civic life of both constituents and the administrations of those entrusted with leadership in our communities and the administrations of those entrusted with leadership.
How Can Local Governments Improve Civic Engagement?
James Anderson recently noted in CityLab that, over the past year, cities have been the source of an extraordinary amount of innovation borne out of crisis — local leaders transformed hundreds of miles of streets and civic spaces, mobilized food-delivery systems, passed eviction moratoriums and procured PPE from every corner of the world in order to protect first responders. Anderson points out that the compounding social issues of climate change, economic recovery and racial justice demand big thinking from city halls. According to Anderson, that’s why we can’t allow the pandemic’s eventual end to also be the end to a period of bold local government experimentation. Instead Anderson makes the case to ensure it’s the beginning of a critical next phase of innovation, where towns, cities, and counties build upon the momentum of the past year to tackle the major urban challenges to come.
The social capital that Americans entrust with their local leaders can and must be nurtured - good citizenship rewarded and acted upon by government. After all, every few years, voters decide whether to stick with their current leaders or move in a different direction. With frequent innovation that has a positive impact on the community, local constituents are more inclined to stick with their current leaders and partake in civic engagement to assist in said innovation.
Strategic Utilization of Federal Relief for State and Local Governments
At the national level, the Federal Government is preparing a second round of relief that when passed, will provide funding to local and state governments across the country. The $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan has $350 billion earmarked for local governments. As the CARES Act did, the American Rescue Plan will include provisions to enable local and state governments to allocate funds toward IT modernization and government software solutions. Additionally, the Biden administration has proposed adding $9 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund for setting up shared IT and cybersecurity services across government.
According to Deloitte Insights, the pandemic forced governments not only to meet a sudden surge in service demand but to do so remotely. The result was that many governments had to quickly pivot their workforces to remote work and create new channels for virtual and digital service delivery—all at scale, in a matter of weeks. For many, the answer to this challenge lay in harnessing the cloud.
While there are many solutions for remote work, from remote desktops to virtual private networks, many governments that depended on these solutions found them insufficient for coping with the sudden scale of remote work during the pandemic. Cloud platforms, on the other hand, by its very nature, were more quickly scalable, allowing for a seamless transition to, and coordination of telework.
Federal aid to municipal and county governments via the American Rescue Plan represents a golden opportunity for local governments to invest in a meaningful digital transformation that can improve efficiency, productivity, and security now and for decades to come.
Constituents will take notice of these efficiency improvements, and will be happier with the shortened time frame it takes to get things done when working with the local government (Who doesn’t like getting a permit approved in hours rather than weeks or months!)
Types of Civic Engagement for Local Governments
What should civic engagement look like moving ahead? How should the constituent experience be improved in order to have a noticeable impact on their lives while making government more efficient, transparent, and responsive? Here are four examples of activities local governments can focus on in order to innovate within their communities, build trust, and improve civic engagement.
The benefits of ramping up digital solutions and promoting virtualization of services can be fully realized only when citizens can access such services. Therefore, building public infrastructure that allows better access to digital solutions—especially for the most marginalized populations—becomes necessary. This means prioritizing access to broadband in both urban and rural areas so that citizens have access to essential services like education, healthcare/telemedicine, and job listings. Digital connectivity enables local governments to display real-time data to the public - from a GIS map with critical data layers like voting districts, economic zones, and flood zones to help them make informed decisions. Further, the deployment of digital services like a mobile report-a-concern app - such as GovPilot’s GovAlert - putting civil society improvement in the palms (mobile phones) of citizens.
2. Break Down Communications & Data Silos
According to Deloitte, Cloud computing should be leveraged for scalability and agility in administrative processes. By creating intelligent, automated workflows that increase efficiency and transparency, governments will be able to migrate human resources to higher-value tasks, thereby continuing to improve the constituent experience while saving money. This also ensures an accurate, automated, traceable accounting of steps taken to improve civic engagement, and communication of work status with constituents, making their experience convenient.
3. Utilize Data to Improve Government Services
With digital services comes lots of actionable data, all of which can be visualized and examined. Are departments quickly resolving incoming citizen concerns? How many permit applications are being filed each month? What are the approval rates and how are they changing over time? How many small businesses within a specific economic zone applied for an emergency relief loan? How many won? How has the response and resolution time for IT tickets across the entire government changed and what needs to be adjusted? With a unified cloud-based platform like GovPilot, employees and elected officials can clearly see work that is being performed the same, better, or worse than it was before the transition to virtualization—across jobs, teams, and functions.
4. Develop a Digitally Savvy Workforce in Local Government
Constituents expect convenience. Ultimately this means that local governments will continue to transition toward fully digital operations and services, so that submitting a permit application is just as easy as placing an order on Amazon. Effective digital governments should promote a digital mindset among staff by supporting technology training and upskilling the workforce. Similarly, governments should communicate with, and educate their constituents on the technology investments and improvements being made in order to accelerate adoption among residents and employees alike.
The Importance of Civic Engagement
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of inefficiencies in government at all levels across the world. Here in the U.S., municipal and county governments responded quickly, adapting as best they could in real-time to address their constituents' needs. Often, the adoption of modern digital solutions was swift, but we also saw the vulnerabilities of reliance on outdated legacy single-use software and on-site server based programs that in many cases like state unemployment portals, were decades old.
Moving forward - beyond the pandemic, officials must continue to lean in to digital government. As Federal relief funds provided through the American Rescue Plan are disbursed and as the economy reopens, new demands will be placed on governments which will need to be responsive to meet the urgent needs of their citizens. This spring, restaurants will apply for sidewalk dining permitting. Small businesses will apply for emergency relief loans. Local businesses that formed online during the past year will submit a retail business registration form. Commuters returning to the office will need to apply for a parking permit.
Local leaders were ambitious and inventive in the face of Covid-19. In order to continue the momentum and accelerate the economic recovery, they will need to remain equally so through the next phase of public-sector innovation. The private sector can help, but ultimately the speed and success of government innovation will come down to government leaders' willingness to support and encourage civic engagement and public trust. It is in their best interest that they do, because spring is coming.
Are you interested in learning more about how digital services can improve your government? Book a free 15-minute consultation - we look forward to learning more about your goals.
Civic Engagement FAQS
What does civic engagement mean?
The definition of Civic engagement is the process of local governments and members of the communities actively working to improve on their community through knowledge, values, skills, and motivation. It is considered essential in relation to community morale and quality of life of the residents. There are many benefits to the local youth and community members partaking in different forms of civic engagement, such as volunteering and voting. The local government needs to set a solid foundation for their community to get involved in.
What does civic engagement in local government look like?
The local government needs to keep up with modern innovation and improve in efficiency in order to promote civic engagement. With voting being such an important aspect of local government, local officials need to provide digital communication platforms, analyze data, and work to bring the community together in order to keep the community members happy and motivated.
What are examples of civic engagement?
There are many types of civic engagement. Voting is perhaps one of the most important ways that the community should be involved in their neighborhood. Volunteering is another common way that both youth and adults can partake in community engagement.
An example of a way that local government officials can get involved in civic engagement is to analyze community data. Are a large number of people filing a certain type of permit per month? Improve local communication and technology so that people can file said permit quickly and efficiently.
What are civic engagement synonyms?
There are many terms that bear similar meanings to civic engagement. Other common phrases include community engagement, civic action, and civic participation.
When referring to the local government’s role in civic engagement, it is commonly referred to as civic governance.
How does civic engagement affect Democracy?
If civic engagement levels are high in a local community, the quality of life is said to be substantially higher. Tasks commonly known to be tedious like filing a permit or contacting local officials can now be done efficiently due to adaptations in technology. This makes the local community more confident in their officials, and more inclined to partake in community engagement and voting at the local level.