Citizen engagement is a large piece of the municipal puzzle. State and local governments need to sustain a persistent feedback loop with citizens in order to provide effective public services.
Digital innovation can help maintain feedback and improve transparency. The hard part is identifying which innovations are popular (and thus more likely to be successful) in the community.
As we reported in StateTech this month, state and local governments are becoming increasingly flexible in embracing technology initiatives to inspire citizen participation:
Social media is the best way to communicate with almost everyone these days. Realizing this, governments are taking myriad approaches to the social web. Many have turned to Facebook, others to Twitter, and still other to apps like Vine. Regardless of the platform, the goal is the same: Engage citizens.
In general, people will be more likely to use a communication platform if it is familiar. Mobile applications and devices are ubiquitous in today’s society, and socializing in real time from anywhere has become the norm.
What better way to leverage both the social and mobile aspect of citizen engagement than through games? Games are inherently interactive and fun. The barrier to entry is low, and the possibilities are endless.
In the “smart city” of the future, governments can convert gaming data points into motivation for a new kind of civic involvement.
"We're hoping that by encouraging people to engage in conversation with objects, to put themselves in their shoes, rather than just complete tasks or score points, we might be able to more effectively alter their perspective of their city – to change how they see it," said cloud communications developer Tom Armitage in an article from the Guardian.
Games can illustrate the value of enacting change in a community. Mobile apps and social outreach enhance the feeling of civic action — people feel empowered.
All this fun leads to a stronger, more effective citizen-government relationship. Data collected from mobile games can be used to evaluate and improve government services. This reporting technique is part of constituent relationship management (CRM).
CRM has implications beyond service efficiencies and cost savings, according to “Designing Citizen Relationship Management Systems to Cultivate Good Civic Habits” (PDF download), a policy brief written by Jesse Baldwin-Philippi and Eric Gordon:
CRM tools can encourage users to engage in reflection around civic habits by facilitating meaningful interactions among citizens. Users should be able to share a report with their existing online networks (i.e. Facebook or Twitter), and engage in discussion about that report.
Making something social means making something relevant. Sharing on social media might already be habitual for some, but in order for sharing a CRM report to be part of a reflective habit loop, the thing shared cannot just be the action; it has to be the reflection.
From reporting graffiti to announcing a volunteer effort, social and mobile tools make it easier to participate in a community. Digital initiatives raise awareness of citizen accountability beyond a passive role as resident. The digital government of the future understands this connection and fosters positive civic behavior.