Engagement Isn’t Just For Brands: Citizens Want A Connected Public Sector

Kathleen O'Brien

With such an incredible focus in cities across the world to be “smart” or “responsive” for the future, and especially given projections that 70% of the global population is living in urban areas, it seems imperative that public sector leaders everywhere understand what services are important to their constituents.

At SXSW 2018, we asked over 500 people from 45 different countries about what areas are critical to them when it comes to connected cities by asking them to prioritize seven citizen-facing aspects. The results were fascinating, and demonstrate that public organizations need to start acting now in order to meet the needs of their citizens – both current residents and future city dwellers.

Regardless of generation, a consistent thread woven throughout the survey results is a tremendous concern about data privacy. In a day and age where we are hearing story after story after story about digital trust being broken, if citizens suspect that the data will not be secure, or fear it may be used for purposes other than the original intent, they will not share their information.

Gen X and Gen Z: Connected, concerned about their communities, and cautious

When it comes to technological savvy, Generation Z leads all generations, but demonstrate a reluctance to adopt new technologies unless there is a clear value, and data privacy is promised. When contrasted with baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials, members of Generation Z are the most cautious online users. Providing services with ease and success to this generation directly correlates to their level of trust and the benefits they believe they will gain by engaging digitally.

The most prominent concern among Gen X’ers is having the ability to leverage civic infrastructure in order to better connect with their community. With the future of civic engagement in their hands, cities need to develop ways to engage other generations and groups so that they will see value and contribute to their communities.

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Show me the money: Millennials want to get to work, literally

Millennials, who are in their prime working years, were greatly concerned with having efficient, connected, and fast commutes to and from work, as well as digital options with regards to transportation for other purposes.

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Nearly digital natives, when it comes to civic engagement, millennials – similar to Gen Z and Gen X – would like to be able to seamlessly access city services and public sector information with ease via technology. A small caveat: Though it would seem that millennials would rank digital capabilities as high as Gen Z and Gen X, they actually rate that in the middle in terms of digital priorities.

All generations agree: Timely information and simple payment options are critical

Who says we can’t agree on anything? All participants ranked the ability to access current information, via any device, as very important, as well as the ability to pay for services using contactless payment options.

As caring for aging loved ones becomes more prevalent, imagine a connected citizenship that could easily access needed public services for a loved one with the click of a finger. A relationship “permission” model could allow constituents to delegate authority to individuals who could act on their behalf; for example, grandparents or relatives requiring care.

It’s not just non-profits who recognize the importance of contactless payment: all generations are in agreement that paying for bills and services should be seamless, and require just a couple of clicks.

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Public sectors should pay attention to this trend – when payment alternatives are made simple citizens are more likely to pay their bills on time, thus funding city services in a timely manner.

Creating digital roadmaps for more responsive future cities

During the World’s Smartest City session at SXSW 2018, Theo Blackwell discussed creating a smarter London. In order to do this, Blackwell noted that city leadership needs access to city data so they can improve public services and gain a better understanding of what residents and business find important.

By engaging with their citizenship, officials can discover how people and companies feel about various service programs. An upcoming event will focus on mapping a trajectory of growth in Europe that is fueled by innovation and a focus on the digital economy and society.

If we look at our 500+ survey respondents from 45 countries as a microcosm of the world and compare it to London, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, what would this information mean to a chief digital officer, who is imperative in Theo Blackwell’s roadmap for a Smarter London?

Using London’s dataset on custom age tables to look at the population breakdown by generation, the biggest generation group – by far – are Millennials, followed by Gen Z:

Millennials 2,462,500
Gen Z 1,917,500
Gen X 1,855,000
Baby Boomers 1,451,900

From the data we collected, I expect that Baby Boomers and Gen X will be the generations most likely to participate in the discussions, while millennials and Gen Z will be least likely to engage – yet these groups are the biggest cohorts, and most important to engage for the future of London.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Blackwell formulates a special campaign to connect with these generations, because, as our data showed, there are distinct differences in their priorities that cannot be overlooked.

What it all means: A connected public sector is crucial

The most important takeaway for public sectors to understand is that citizens expect the same convenience, availability, service, and connectivity from their governments and municipalities as they are accustomed to in their personal lives.

If public organizations incorporate mobile user experiences and omnichannel methods to engage their constituents, there is a fantastic opportunity to drive positive and lasting change that will better the lives of all city dwellers. The question is, what are they waiting for?

Want to learn more about digitally engaging citizens to create a better tomorrow? Learn more here!


Kathleen O'Brien

About Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O’Brien is focused on business development in the the global public sector industry at SAP Hybris.