I was a big fan of Gilmore Girls when the show first came out in the early 2000s. I enjoyed the story and the rapid fire dialogue, but there were many things that made me scratch my head while watching the show: we would never wear our shoes in bed, we didn't have breakfast diners, cars weren't nearly as important in early 2000s Romania. Another thing sticks out and has to do with civic engagement: townsfolk would sometimes meet up in a rundown hall and discuss city business, making decisions live, almost like in the direct democracies of ancient Greece (which we'd been learning about in school). 

How fascinating!

That type of direct citizen input didn't really happen in my hometown, where the mayor and the city council would make decisions in a seemingly parallel universe. I'm not 100% sure it happens as much in the US anymore either, where citizen engagement is now more of a govtech software and services category as opposed to a meeting someplace that looks like a barn. 

Engagement Across the Board

As we covered last week, engaging stakeholders is top of mind for leaders. There are various tools to achieve this with regards to employees: weekly pulse surveys, rewards and recognition... The same interest in direct input applies to civic leaders, but it is a lot harder to get feedback from citizens who don't necessarily have to (or want to!) engage with their government every week, the same way that employees need to clock in at their jobs.

It gets doubly complicated if you're trying to hear from populations that are underrepresented in surveys vs. in real life. I was reading the community survey from Loveland, CO (excellent url choice, by the way), and what is striking is how respondents in the survey skew heavily towards women in 55+ age category (see data below). Their opinions are valuable, of course, but they are only a slice of the community. This is why surveys, to be statistically valid, need to be adjusted to reflect the demographic makeup of the community. 

Ease of representative data collection and making sure information gets to everyone are also reasons why local government bodies increasingly use software to support the two-way communication channel with their citizens. 

Software in the Town Hall

Nowadays, town hall meetings happen using meeting and agenda setting software such as that provided by CivicPlus, eScribe or Granicus. Some of these companies as well as a handful of others also offer websites that are tailored to the government buyer. This is the "from government to citizens" side of the engagement coin.

At the ICMA we also saw a number of players who either provide surveys or use social media listening, to cover the "from citizens to government" engagement side. The likes of Polco or Zencity both have offerings in this space. The goal is often to understand citizen (client) satisfaction on a longer term basis, get input on specific, one-off projects ("How do we best use this empty lot? Should it be a park or something else?") and also hear from the community when something isn't quite right (through 311 software such as SeeClickfix). 

In all, there was a ton of buzz at the ICMA around citizen engagement: sessions on analytics surrounding this topic were booked up before I even got a chance to register! 

Suffice it to say, government leaders are keen to inclusively reflect the wishes of their constituents - using data and software to hopefully recreate some of the engagement in the Stars Hollow town hall, but in much larger and broader settings.