Baltimore City Hall has turned to virtual meetings during the pandemic. 

Jun 29 2021

Local Governments Have Used Innovative Solutions to Serve the Public During the Pandemic

Collaboration solutions enable public servants to interact with and help citizens during the public health crisis.

Like other sectors, local governments have had to adapt over the past year to operate differently due to the coronavirus pandemic. They had to move with urgency to keep vital services flowing to the public, and many evolved quickly to keep serving citizens.

These shifts relied on various technologies, including cloud-based collaboration platforms, communication tools for call centers and videoconferencing solutions. These tools helped ensure that government agencies could meet the demands of the moment, stay connected with their communities, address the public health crisis and work on behalf of citizens.

Public Meetings Go Online to Keep Citizens Informed

Many state and local agencies shifted to holding meetings online to help enforce social distancing guidelines and keep the public safe, which boosted the public’s interest in government operations.

One government that did so was the city of Baltimore, which launched virtual city council meetings in April 2020, following a rollout by the Baltimore Planning Commission in late March.

The city leveraged Cisco’s Webex platform to enable the public to participate and interact in the meetings. It also used Webex endpoints to ensure that public officials could be seen and heard clearly by residents and remain accountable to the citizenry.

In mid-June, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said that the city will emerge from the local state of emergency July 1. Still, it’s unclear when city employees will be returning to government offices.

Although some cities are returning to in-person city council meetings, it’s clear that having the ability to conduct government business online and enable officials to remain engaged with the public was a silver lining to the pandemic.

Technology Helps Drive the Public Health Response

In addition to maintaining public meetings, technology has also enabled local government agencies to respond directly to the pandemic.

In Florida, a local public health agency used the Webex platform to transform its COVID-19 interactions with the public. The agency’s previous contact center solution required employees to come into a physical office and allowed them to make only one call at a time to deliver COVID test results to residents.

With Webex, the agency was able to use its existing infrastructure while gaining new functionality. For example, users could dial resident’s numbers via an automated system and get results faster while not directly viewing results, ensuring patient privacy.

Additionally, the system enabled users to make the calls while working remotely, reducing the number of people in the office to limit the spread of the virus.

DIVE DEEPER: What is the tech behind COVID tracking tools?

Legislatures Can Conduct Business Remotely

Governments can also use Legislate for Webex, a skin designed for legislatures on top of the Webex platform.

Legislate for Webex enables lawmakers to conduct hearings virtually or in a hybrid environment with specialized tools to replicate the in-person experience. For example, built-in tools manage timing for speaking and voting and other session details. Meeting participants can also set up sidebar meeting rooms where participants can chat in private and rejoin the video meeting.

The platform also allows users to set up, administer and moderate votes securely quickly. Lawmakers can create a voting agenda ahead of the session and instantly analyze the results of the vote, including customized breakdowns by party or group.

For security, in-person lobby attendant verification is built-in, meaning that unauthorized users won’t access critical votes. In addition, Cisco tools like DUO multifactor authentication and Umbrella for web security are available to secure the session further.

The tool can be used for legislators who aren’t ready to return to in-person sessions, or it could be used if legislatures need to operate remotely in the future.

RELATED: State technology directors say telework will endure past the pandemic.

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