Local Governments Invite Citizen Engagement As They Journey To Digitization

Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz

Local government is becoming digital government. Public institutions worldwide are finding ways to improve services by converting to digital tools. The tools are connecting government departments to each other, to businesses, and to local citizens.

Mobile technologies, including smartphones, are making it possible to encourage citizen engagement. Cities are providing rapid help when citizens report problems or seek other kinds of help.

These journeys toward digitization invite citizens onboard for the ride.

Grading Boston on its city services

Scorecards are not just for sports teams. Boston’s city government offers an online program called Boston About Results (BAR). It gathers feedback from citizens about city services. These include neighborhood development, police services, and street cleaning.

After tracking data from citizens and other sources, the city analyzes it and graphs the results to show performance. Transparency is an important aspect of digital government that attracts citizen participation. For example, BAR allows Internet users to see how long it takes Boston work crews to fill a pothole and how many requests the city receives for graffiti removal.

BAR reports show top requests from citizens each month and how well the city met those needs.

Waiting for buses and wandering the Internet

Some cities, such as Barcelona and Edinburgh, offer free Wi-Fi at public bus shelters that also contain large touchscreens for exploring local businesses and getting map directions.

Barcelona provides free Wi-Fi at many locations citywide. It began its journey to digital government during the 2008 recession. Writing at Harvard University’s Data-Smart City Solutions, Laura Adler notes that Spain was one of the hardest-hit European countries during the recession. She reports that Barcelona decided to become a Smart City to improve its economy and quality of life.

Smart Cities are based on Internet of Things (IoT) technology linking citizens, government, businesses, and physical structures to the Internet. IoT objects can be as obvious as smartphones and computer notepads or as obscure as garbage bins equipped with Internet-connected sensors. Adler writes that Barcelona’s IoT garbage cans “monitor waste levels and optimize collection routes.”

To ease traffic congestion, Barcelona embeds sensors in pavement to help direct drivers to available parking spots. At night, city lampposts fitted with sensors light automatically as pedestrians approach and then dim as they move away. Adler notes that the lampposts also contain sensors to measure air quality.

Barcelona redesigned its environment with so many smart technologies that it plays host to the largest Smart City conference in the world every November (Smart Cities World Congress). In a micro survey of attendees conducted by SAP, 75% of the respondents reported that their cities have begun digitization of services.

The gathering buzzes with information such as how cities are using social media to reach out to citizens and providing online access to government information. Another topic concerning citizen engagement is creation of e-commerce functions for easy payment of municipal bills such as fines and permits. Discussion about using mobile apps for improving public transportation and parking also dominates.

Meeting neighbors and government Nextdoor

Smart City networks strive to make communities safer, friendlier, and more convenient for people. One way to do this is to connect citizens to each other as well as to government. Another way already mentioned is to give them a forum for speaking up about problems.

Many local governments are adopting apps created by private developers and focused on improving community life. For example, if you live in the Netherlands or the U.S., you can keep up with and share neighborhood news through the Nextdoor website. Local government representatives, such as city managers and public relations officers, often use Nextdoor to spread word about citywide projects and events.

Other popular apps adopted by many cities are used to receive feedback from citizens about municipal problems – complete with photographs – via smartphone.

Getting back to the Boston experience

The need for quick, effective interaction with citizens and local businesses is why many city governments are adopting powerful software platforms, such as SAP HANA, that can coordinate and analyze massive amounts of data in real time.

In Boston, data sharing between city departments, businesses, and citizens is aimed at improving quality of life, whether on a daily basis or following difficult events. After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, real-time data analysis helped the city to get businesses back up and running.

Digital government is proactive government.

Read about more about SAP’s perspective on Digital Government here.

Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz

About Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz

Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz oversees SAP’s global Public Services business, including public sector, postal, defense and security, and higher education and research. Together with her team, she is responsible for setting strategic direction for the industry teams, including co-innovation with customers and the delivery of new business models.