Mobility and Social Media Help Cities Engage with Residents

IDC Government Insights forecasts much growth around mobile apps.

This year, local governments will be reaching out to citizens via mobile apps and social media like never before.

Earlier this year, IDC Government Insights released its list of 10 Smart City predictions for 2013. The predictions aim to assist organizations by identifying and prioritizing the business drivers and technology trends that will shape city technology in 2013. Two of these predictions center around mobile apps and how local government interacts with citizens.

In 2013, local government will connect to citizens via mobile services and social media, accelerating a new type of citizen–government relationship. Citizens themselves are driving much of this shift because their adoption of mobile devices changes the ways government information and services are accessed.

By 2015, more people in the United States will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PC.

Consider that by 2015, for the first time ever, more people in the United States will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs, according to IDC’s Worldwide New Media Market Model. The share of users who download software onto a PC will also fall steeply, from 33 percent to 19 percent, because many people will use apps on their mobile devices. Local governments have seen the imperative, and last year reported that 40 percent of all new apps developed will be for the mobile form factor.

These mobile technologies will usher in a new relationship that will be unprecedented in the personal and immediate way that citizens and government workers will engage with each other.

The level that citizens will be able to participate in and shape city life will be a boon for cities, if handled correctly. By sourcing information from citizens, municipalities could save money and improve services. In addition to reporting potholes or problems with streetlights, this includes voting on issues in ways that can immediately affect decision making, as well as influencing citizen behaviors in real-time via crowdsourced information. Other examples of the use of mobile and social apps include the following:

  • Emergency alerts and crisis-response communications
  • Nonemergency-services tools (311 numbers in the United States and Canada or SeeClickFix type apps)
  • Tourist- and visitor-information apps
  • Transportation information for parking, public transportation or traffic rerouting
  • Social-sentiment analysis to monitor public reaction and perception
  • Crowdsourced fund-raising for local projects.

Apps Aplenty

One aspect of this citizen sourcing involves mobile apps. IDC predicts that local governments with strategic open-data initiatives will have 50 percent more mobile apps developed for their city by residents and the private sector. More cities will use open-data initiatives strategically to help fuel mobile-app development by the public and thus provide more of the services citizens, visitors and businesses want, in the medium (mobile) they want it.

However, given the pace of the mobile-application life cycle — platforms can be upgraded every six months and more than 45 percent of a mobile-app budget goes toward maintenance — city governments need to think carefully about their role in app development and decide on their sourcing strategy for skills and capabilities.

Crowdsourcing of ideas and talent from the community rests on data sets and APIs that are made available to citizens. Citizens must also be educated on the open data and APIs and motivated to use the data to solve city challenges via hackathons, challenges and contests, for which prizes are awarded. In this way, an open-data strategy relieves some of the burden of app development and maintenance from local government and promotes a vibrant digital sector.

As cities work with residents and community groups, the possibilities for innovative new solutions to address civic issues seem endless.

<p>iStockphoto/Thinkstock</p>
Apr 18 2013