by Dennis Harward, co-founder, TownCloud
Over the past several years, citizen engagement has become an important topic. Many local governments are scrambling to embrace social media and to purchase software to provide an immediate solution. In the e-book18 on 2018: Predictions on Local Government from 18 experts, I pointed out that such social media tools as Facebook, Twitter, and NextDoor offer many opportunities to communicate, but they have become dominated by negativity. To be successful in 2018, my tip for local government managers was to make civility and optimism in media a top priority and to strongly encourage the use of modern communications for positive thoughts and ideas.
Real engagement must go beyond buying a new transparency tool or setting up a Facebook page. The problems we experience with social media can stem from a bad experience that someone had with us. So the goal of real engagement should be to repair and strengthen trust between residents and staff.
One way that trust can be improved (or established) is through regular engagement with residents in strategic ways regarding a community’s direction and goals for the year. Providing an opportunity for them to weigh in on budget decisions can provide valuable insights to the community and encouragement to people that their voices are being heard.
Another way to improve trust is by ensuring a high standard of customer service. A city, for example, could take a step back and look at what “engagement” means from the eyes of its residents. What is it like to do business with the city? Is it a good experience? Are the processes efficient? Whether in person or online, if someone is faced with inefficient processes, poor documentation, or bad software, they can be left with a feeling that they don’t matter.
When I served on a council, I was surprised by the effort required to provide information to me. Millions of dollars were spent on our information technology, yet it took Herculean efforts from staff to respond to the council's information needs.
It’s clear that the public is demanding more transparency and accountability than ever before. We have all become accustomed to having information and services available on our mobile devices and expect the same level of service from local governments.
In the March 28 webinar The Cloud: Using Information to Engage Your Community, hosted by TownCloud, we will discuss ways to improve citizen engagement with both new and existing tools. We will also discuss the problems created by social media and how communities can use existing systems to provide improved efficiency and transparency. Robert Tipton will explore steps that can be taken to build a culture of trust in our communities.