The way local governments communicate with constituents has changed dramatically over the years. Before, all towns or cities needed to do was create a website and post upcoming events and information there for citizens; whereas now these same citizens demand to be communicated with on a more personal level, through targeted communications containing only the information that is relevant to them. This means websites are no longer sufficient when it comes to comprehensive citizen engagement.
Local governments are beginning to realize the need to better engage their citizens and are starting to invest in software that can enable them to provide constituents with the kind of information and communication they are looking for. This software serves to streamline all kinds of communication between the government and its citizens without adding any additional work for municipal administration teams.
Multi-channel communication has become the name of the game when it comes to reaching out to and communicating important information to citizens across the entire breadth of a town or community. A communication software with the ability to send targeted messages and updates through a variety of channels can go a long way in increasing citizen engagement by ensuring as many of them as possible receive the information that matters to them and allowing them the means to respond and voice their opinions on what matters to them.
There are a number of ways local governments can harness the power of multi-channel communication in order to increase engagement within the municipality. With the right software that includes a plethora of tools to aid in this endeavor, the possibilities are nearly limitless!
Online sign-up forms
First things first. Before citizens can receive targeted communications from their community, they need a way to sign up and opt in to receive these communications. This is where having a website for the municipality can still come in handy.
Creating an online sign-up form and hosting it on your town's website so that citizens can easily access it is an easy way to request opt-in permissions and contact information. The information collected from these forms can be used to create online profiles for each recipient. These profiles can then help the town personalize communications, tailoring each message they send to the specific recipient.
The next tools local governments should be making use of to increase citizen engagement are the many all-powerful social media platforms out there. Global social media usage has increased by 13 percent since January 2017, meaning that more and more people are moving toward this communication method to receive their news and information. This is in addition to the more traditional means of newsgathering, such as television and radio. Big companies are coming around to the idea that they must diversify their communications to their customers and expand into the online world.
And it's working. Which means if it works for companies, why shouldn't it work for municipal governments? Social media would be a great place to promote the sign-up forms for events and special programs that are on your website, and a great place to make announcements regarding any new initiatives. Use Facebook and Twitter to ask citizens questions to get them involved in decision-making processes and share updates and photos from past events (and even live updates from events currently taking place!).
Regular email newsletters are another great way to let citizens know what's going on in their town or community right to their inboxes. A monthly or bi-monthly newsletter that is automatically tailored to each recipient's personal interests can help increase awareness about upcoming events contacts may be interested in, and it may even strengthen their desire to become engaged participants or supporters of these events.
Be sure not to take advantage of a recipient's communication consent by bombarding their inboxes with too many emails a month, or else they may feel spammed and will therefore unsubscribe. This is why monthly email newsletters are a good alternative to one-off emails sent whenever there's something new to report. Citizens can subscribe to receive regular updates on the goings on, whether political or otherwise, in their community without the fear of receiving an inundation of emails each month.
Surveys and Polls
How can you help give your citizens a voice when it comes to sharing opinions on important issues, or when providing feedback on how well the current mandate is being carried out? Online polls and surveys can collect vital information from citizens that can change how local governments provide services to the members of the community and optimize their chances for re-election by listening to what the people they serve have to say.
There is software available that can help with the collection of responses from the survey or poll and will automatically compile easy-to-read reports for simple analysis by municipal administration. The administration team can then take these results and put them in front of the community leaders so they can act on them and thus strengthen the community engagement process even further. What's more, these surveys and polls can be sent out at any time of year - not just around election time.
Multi-channel communication is also important when it comes to ensuring public safety during an emergency event or severe weather system. Mass notification is made more efficient when multiple communication channels are used to notify citizens because the more channels used, the greater the chance that citizens will receive the notification in enough time to properly prepare or reach safety.
You can even allow citizens to choose how they would prefer to receive these special notices, which will further increase the chances they will read them as soon as possible. Again, you must be sure to have community residents opt in to receive these notifications before you can send to them. This goes all the way back to the sign-up form on the municipal website.
The benefits of stronger citizen engagement
What's not to love about citizens who are actively engaged in making their town or community a better place to live in? A community that knows what its needs are and has the ability to voice these needs to its elected officials can only make governance easier and more productive for the municipality as a whole.
Enhance public services
Active citizen engagement can help identify specific needs within the community. Once these needs have been identified, this can then allow improvements or additions to be made to services and programs offered to the public. There is no sense in continuing to offer a program that consistently has low attendance or generally not well-received. By listening to and gathering input from its citizens, a municipality can be sure it's gearing its offerings toward what the community has explicitly asked for, and that it is using all its resources in an efficient manner.
Make better decisions
Input from members of the public can also serve to help hold local governments accountable with their decision-making. Officials need to ensure decisions are made with the interests of the many in mind and not just the interests of the few. Knowing that citizens can, and will, speak out against legitimately unfair policies using the variety of methods available to them should be enough to influence decision-makers into making the right call. Automated surveys and polls can also help officials be sure that their decisions are as accurate as possible and can help gauge the public's response.
All communities must do what they can to strive toward inclusion of all types of demographics. By giving a voice to groups who are often marginalized due to class, race, or religion, governments can create a truly inclusive community culture that ensures the needs of all its residents are being met. Increasing the number of ways citizens can reach out to elected leaders allows those who may not have access to the more traditional methods of communication to speak out and ask for help.
A more engaged municipality is a stronger municipality. Communication is essential to building a solid framework for generating and implementing ideas and policies that benefit everyone within a community. When citizens and their local governments can communicate effectively with each other it allows for greater transparency within the system and as a result, citizens have more trust in their leaders. Sometimes all you need in order to increase citizen engagement and strengthen a community is to let them know that their contributions will be heard.
Greater communication across all municipal sectors
Local governments are not the only municipal entities that can benefit from greater engagement from the community. While there is certainly a visible benefit to increasing communication with the non-emergency services in a community – such as the elected council, administration, and supervisory authorities running public programs – there are also advantages to enhancing communication with those in the emergency sector as well.
Community police officers can benefit from engaging the citizens in their community as a way to foster faith and trust in the work that they do and enhance their relationship with the people they serve. Social media is one of the many ways police departments can reach out to citizens. Officers can post engaging content and photos about their officers to show the department's personality, or they can even post notices regarding the dangers of drinking and driving or about deteriorating road conditions.
Fire departments can also use increased citizen engagement as a way to strengthen their ties to the community. Firefighters can use multiple communication methods to spread awareness about upcoming events hosted by the department, such open houses where the public is able to get a look inside the inner workings of the station itself. These open houses offer the public a chance to learn about the process personnel go through in the event they are called out to a fire, which builds up citizens' confidence and trust. Tips and tricks can also be shared on social media for when to change a smoke detector or how to create a fire escape plan.
Emergency Medical Services
Those who work in emergency paramedicine can use multi-channel communication to increase engagement in their field as well. As well as using social media as a way to send reminders to the public regarding flu shots and other vaccines available, Twitter and Facebook can be used to host Q&A sessions where citizens can ask their questions to real emergency medical personnel. Monthly notices via email or SMS can also be sent out to subscribed members of the public with additional information, such as the next CPR course or local blood drive.
Ready to Increase Citizen Engagement?
Increasing engagement within a community doesn't have to be difficult. As was mentioned previously, there is automation software out there that can help maximize your community's engagement potential through multi-channel communication. Automation can help simplify the multi-channel communication strategy by simultaneously sending out messages using all available methods and collecting responses into a single report that can be reviewed and analyzed to optimize governance and decision-making abilities.
Many local governments are already actively seeking out tools to help increase citizen engagement. A 2017 survey indicates that two-thirds of respondents are planning to invest in a technology to enable them to reach out to their citizens in more ways than ever before.
Citizens want to engage their local governments, they just need to be shown how.