Between the pandemic and a shifting political landscape in the United States, the past few years have reflected a major shift in the relationship between local governments and their citizens.
While there has been no shortage of analysis about ways that localities can improve their infrastructure and public services, hearing about the challenges and frustrations your community-members have faced at the local level is critical to make ongoing improvements to your community. Unfortunately, if your local government doesn't have the right civic engagement strategy, you're not getting a clear picture from your citizens about their key priorities for your neighborhood.
With strong civic engagement, local governments can make a positive impact on their community by working directly with your citizens to address the most pressing local frustrations. Follow along for a clear definition of civic engagement and real-life examples of ways you can improve local citizen participation.
What is Civic Engagement?
Civic engagement (also known as citizen engagement and civic participation) is the process of working to make a positive impact in the civic life of communities. Knowledge of the key issues in your locality and motivation to address these challenges collaboratively between your local government and citizens is the key to improving the quality of life in your 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 civic engagement examples that local governments can foster to improve citizen engagement and benefit community-members and your government workers.
How Can Local Governments Improve Civic Engagement?
Local government innovation has been flourishing during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. Local leaders have transformed hundreds of miles of streets and civic spaces to be more accessible by bike and foot, established public health sites for testing and vaccination, made digital transformations for government services, and mobilized to apply infrastructure grants from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, American Rescue Plan, and other critical legislation.
The compounding social issues of climate change, worsening infrastructure, economic recovery and social equity demand big thinking from city halls. In your strategic planning strategy consider the key challenges in your community and ask the public which focus areas they'd like to see prioritized. Innovation that has a positive impact on the community will leave your constituents more inclined to re-elect current leadership and partake in various types of civic engagement to make community improvements.
Here are resources for implementing modern innovation in your local community:
- Key Issues to Consider and Address in Local Governments
- How Local Governments Can Overcome Innovation Debt
- Improving Local Public Transportation
- Embracing Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
- Prioritizing Sustainability in Local Governance
Strategic Utilization of Federal Grants for Local Governments
The federal government has put billions of dollars into the hands of local governments to make critical physical and digital infrastructure improvements at the community level. Local governments need to consider which infrastructure improvements are most critical, and use civic participation to recognize where citizens would like to see the grant dollars allocated.
Here are key ways at a glance that you can utilize grant dollars to improve the quality of life for your citizens:
- Embrace government software across departments to streamline workflows and citizen services in an online capacity.
- Prioritize local broadband for improved Internet access for your citizens and government workers. If you're in a rural area, consider BEAD Broadband Grants.
- Use municipal planning to modernize roads and bridges, maintain public transit, and build bike lanes and walking zones.
- Apply federal cybersecurity grants to keep your citizen's data secure and operations running smoothly.
Constituents will take notice of these efficiency and infrastructure improvements, and will be happier with the shortened time frame it takes to get things done when working with the local government.
How Can Your Local Government Improve Citizen Trust? Here's further considerations
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 civic examples of activities local governments can focus on in order to innovate within their communities, build trust, and improve civic engagement.
1. Invest in Citizen Connectivity
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. Prioritizing access to broadband in both urban and rural areas allows citizens to have access to essential government services. Digital connectivity enables counties and municipalities 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 complaint management platform such as GovPilot’s GovAlert allow for citizens to engage in civic participation by submitting key issues directly to relevant government officials.
Learn more about How Complaint Management Software Helps to Improve Civic Engagement.
2. Break Down Communications & Data Silos
The government cloud should be leveraged for scalability and agility in administrative processes. Digital government data storage improve processes by allowing for instant access to important data by government officials, online forms for relevant citizen and business application types, simplified open record requests, and government communications across departments via one simple platform. A digital record 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.
Learn more about the Benefits of Digital Public Records Technology.
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 unified, cloud-based government analytics, 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.
Here are Actionable Government IT Tips to Consider.
5. Prioritize Multiple Languages on Your Government Website
An optimized government website allows for civic participation from citizens of all backgrounds. With GovPilot's online forms for permits, licenses, etc., language can be translated in various languages to encourage digital equity from non-english speaking citizens.
The Importance of Civic Engagement
Civic engagement is imperative to the success of your local government. Hearing from your citizens on their biggest frustrations and highlighting the community projects your government has been working on is essential for citizens to have a higher quality of life and for leadership to get reelected.
Fortunately, government software wields the power to modernize your civic engagement strategy. Online communications and data collection will allow for everyone's voices to be heard, and for your government to showcase actionable work that is being done in your neighborhood.
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.
For the latest government trends and insights, read on:
- Actionable Tips for the City Administrator / Manager
- Local Government Code Enforcement Strategy
- Local Government Water Utilities Strategy
- Managing and Improving Local Public Meetings
- Modern Local Public Works Strategy
- Modern Code Enforcement Strategy
- Modern Local Parks & Recreation Strategy
- Best Government Scheduling Software
- Tips for the Local Public Health Director
- Local Government Revenue Sources to Consider
- Local Government Fee & Fine Collection