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2021 Trends: From Crisis, Innovation

COVID forced governments to digitally adapt in 2020.

Which changes will become best practices in 2021 and beyond?

“Resiliency” and “adaptation” were the watchwords in a year when phrases such as “these uncertain times” became both overly used and an understatement of the reality we all faced. Few areas required agility during this year’s crisis situations more than the government sector. And fewer places succeeded in meeting the growing demands and previously unforeseen challenges of making rapid responses more than city, county, state, and federal agencies and departments.

While the impact of the COVID pandemic may have accelerated the embrace of digital government, there’s no denying that technology helped ensure that citizens were able to receive the critical information they needed from their government while maintaining public health safety guidelines and regulations.

But that was 2020.

With vaccine programs slated for roll out through 2021, the crisis may ebb for citizens and the governments that serve them. That said, the timeline for when, or even if, the world returns to “normal” is, to borrow that overused/understated term, uncertain.

How will the technological innovations born in crisis play a role in keeping effective governance moving in this transitional time? What will things look like at the end of that transition?

While 2020 meant the scrapping of numerous future-forward plans made in 2019, looking into 2021 provides a chance to merge the lessons of the COVID crisis with a possibly changed world. Granicus continues to serve our clients, first through the early stages of the crisis and now into this next phase, with the insight that allows government to remain nimble at all levels.

Some of those closest to the governments Granicus serves glimpse into the crystal ball for 2021 and offer their thoughts on how those lessons learned are poised to become best practices in the new year and beyond:

Machine Learning and AI

“One of the impacts of the crisis is that citizens began to realize how governments work together in unison, almost nesting within each other. City government within county government, within state government, within federal. The context in which they work together.

In 2020, we’ve been listening more to our governments and looking for information from each of those government areas, separately and collectively. Thanks to machine learning and AI, we built products this year that provided COVID-related information from these various areas into one place, creating one experience for the user.

Machine learning and AI are going to be valuable tools for government digital communications going forward, not only helping citizens more easily find the information they’re seeking, but also giving governments a better way to integrate their messaging at various levels.”

– Bob Ainsbury, Chief Product Officer

Remote Environments are Here to Stay

“Prior to COVID, governments would hold hearings or meetings in large meeting rooms. It allowed people to meet in person, include guests across a spectrum of expertise and backgrounds, and bring people together to participate in open discussion. But with the COVID outbreak creating restrictions on the size of groups or gatherings, it wasn’t as if these meetings could stop.

Just like many companies, governments have turned to virtual meeting environments and remote participation, even for voting members. And while these adaptations may seem small, it might be really disruptive when you have, for example, 50 people, voting members, clerks, etc., joining a virtual meeting. Things like mute buttons become a big issue. Knowing how to hold a verbal vote or show a raised hand. These all became technical concerns with a not-insignificant learning curve.

Despite that, clients are telling me that when, or if, there is a return to normalcy, they’re preparing for a world where remote communication is more the norm. They see a future where hybrid meetings will be more popular and that having a more significant virtual option for meetings will be standard. This is going to become the new normal where people are going to change their behaviors even when we’re out of crisis.”

– Aaron Levin, Director, govMeetings

The Importance of a Strong and Secure Cloud Platform

“State CIOs are talking about how a remote work force is going to become normal. The stigma of not being in an office faded during the last year as people have realized remote work is still productive. That’s great for technology and efficiency in governments. But it makes having a strong and secure cloud platform absolutely crucial to security-focused areas like government.

Programs like FedRAMP are going to be so important moving forward as we rely more on safe and secure cloud environments. govDelivery was the first digital communications tool to receive FedRAMP approval, we are going to see this be even more important going forward.”

– Stephanie DelSignore, Account Director, State Governments

Automating Communication Increases Responsiveness Without Increasing Staff

“For governments that communicate in a more responsive manner, 2020 sent them into serious overload. The speed and demands that came with the early days of the pandemic made them realize that their good intentions for proactive communications would fall by the wayside when the needs for reactive and responsive communications increased.

That level of demand also put stress on the staff who respond to those requests for communication. It’s often just an issue of bandwidth. What we’re finding is that to deal with these challenges, agencies are taking a closer look at their digital experience to find better ways to meet their customers’ needs.

Sometimes this is design, sometimes it’s automation. But the demands that came with the crisis are driving a reevaluation of what government agencies need in their digital suite of resources to be consistent, concise, and complete without putting further strain on their staffs.”

– Allison Hamilton, Strategic Account Executive

Adapting Existing Tools in New Ways

“As the pandemic started to ramp up in the early spring, we saw a significant uptick in the number of our clients using the eComment feature in govMeetings—which allows agencies to digitally post agendas for public comment prior to meetings) who had either used it and stopped— or hadn’t used it at all.

What was more interesting, though, was how these clients then began to adapt the product to meet their needs within the limitations that the pandemic and, say, regulations around the pandemic were creating. In the case of eComment, we started to see clients looking to change how deadlines for comments were being handled, leaving comments open for access during meetings, and other changes that made participation easier both before and after the meeting.

I think that reflects how some of these clients are preparing for life after the pandemic. They’re adapting tools because they realize that there might be a set of people who decide they don’t want to be in large groups later on. With that in mind, they’re already asking how they as a government can cater to those people and still give them the same chance for participation in public hearings and meetings.

As a solutions provider, that gives us the chance to work along with those agencies to prepare tools that will keep them evolving and adapting as more of these changes take shape.”

– Brandon Wenninger, Manager of Product Training, govMeetings

Into the Unknown

While our experts have their pulse on where 2020 has shown a roadmap to success in 2021, last year proved that, if anything, the best laid plans can change at any given moment. Let Granicus help create the solutions that will keep your organization ready to engage with the public over whatever the future may hold.

See it live!