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Answering Your Questions on Citizen Engagement: Part 1


We had an incredible flood of questions during and following our Citizen Engagement webinar last month with insights from Ruthbea Clarke of IDC Government Insights and Mary Yang of GovDelivery. So, we decided to compile some of those questions and their responses (including the ones we weren’t able to address live during the webinar) into a two-part blog post in order to pass along some of the information that was shared to the wider government communications community. If you’d like to hear more of the in-depth answers Ruthbea and Mary gave to some of the questions below, watch the webinar here or read the Analyst Connections brief here. The questions and answers from the webinar have been edited in some cases for further clarification.

Q: The speaker mentioned a centralized citizen database.  What kind of information would be contained there and how would it be collected?
Ruthbea: A lot of cities are collecting Census or other information from their citizens when they are signing up for email messages. By consolidating your information into one database of what’s already being collected and maybe not being updated regularly, you can ensure you’re reaching the people you want to reach and that they’re receiving the type of information most useful for them.

Q: You talked about how citizens are using mobile devices to get their updates/news more often than traditional computers/laptops. Is this going to be consistent within all age demographics or is it more generational?

Ruthbea: Digital inclusion and making sure you’re able to serve all the types of people you have is important for government organizations. When we look at people under the age of 30, they are consistently using mobile. This trend continues into those across ages 30 to 65. It’s mainly the upper echelon of the age demographics who are not using mobile as heavily. However, there is a large push for citizens across generations to access government services via the web that is taking hold and provides another digital method to reach a greater number of people. A lot of times what starts to happen when we discuss accessing government services via mobile devices, we find that across incomes, penetration is similar. Mobile devices are the great equalizer across income gaps.

Q: Are there any resources for those looking to create apps, but not knowing where to start? I’m not sure my IT department knows how to build apps.

Ruthbea: The more data that you open up to the public, the more you encourage individuals and private sector organizations to create apps and other solutions that will help your organization serve your stakeholders. By implementing hackathons or challenges in your organization, you can incent more people to create these types of solutions. Your organization simply provides the data and open APIs, then events like hackathons help to stimulate developer incentive.

Mary: Apps can be excellent tools to reach that younger audience, as Ruthbea mentioned earlier. But you shouldn’t look to build an app just to have an app. I’d encourage you to think through why an app would be a good tool for your organization or department. What’s the purpose of the app? How does that fit into delivering on your mission goals? What are the goals you’d want to reach with an app, and are those goals measurable?

Q: From a cost perspective, do you think the Cloud is less-costly, about as costly, or more costly than the more traditional non-Cloud technologies?

Ruthbea: Usually the cost difference is equal to or less than non-cloud alternatives, but there’s a completely different payment model with the cloud. There is a lot of softer values that are harder to measure in terms of cost and benefit. Government widely uses services like IT consultants and other outside sources to develop costly time-consuming projects. When you have consultants embedded in multiple departments, there is a lot of scope creep that often arises, and with the cloud you don’t have the same cost issues. Additionally the cloud sees faster deployment. And if you can get a service up and running quicker, that’s a savings. By using cloud technology, your organization also saves a lot on upgrades and maintenance costs.

Mary: Additionally, with cloud technology versus traditional technology implementations, you should think about the ‘total cost of ownership,’ often seen shortened as TCO. With more traditional, non-cloud technology, you have hardware costs that have to be factored into the software purchase, adding to the need for more IT staff time & resources and to scope creep.

­Q: Do you know of any small to mid-size municipalities that have a good strategy for citizen engagement and/or utilizing the Cloud?­
Ruthbea: The State of Indiana has a great cloud engagement strategy around energy efficiency. Additionally, mid-size cities like Boston and San Francisco have centralized innovation departments that are driving what’s happening around them. The key to making a successful citizen engagement strategy on the state and local government level is an executive sponsor. Most of these organizations with well-implemented strategies have some elected official that stresses its importance and puts his/her weight behind the initiative to bring people together across different departments.

Mary: GovDelivery does a lot of work in shared services. Oakland County, Michigan uses our cloud-based program to get information out around topics and services it offers, and also allows every township and municipality within the county to use that system. So there’s a mutually beneficial relationship within local government organizations to communicate better with their citizens, engage them, and get them to participate in events at every level. Stearns County, Minnesota is also working on a successful engagement model that is helping to get citizens to submit more crime tips. They have been able to use our cloud platform to increase crime prevention and encourage safer communities.

Q: ­Do you offer support to governments to build the “community” of citizens getting updates? What are those strategies?­
Mary: A few of the tips discussed in the webinar were foundational to building a community of citizens for outreach. Check out our Digital Outreach Best Practices Guide for more tips on building the community of citizens and their engagement with your organization.

Did you attend or watch a replay of the Citizen Engagement Webinar? Do you have any other questions to add to the list? Comment below!