What I’m reading: Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Noteworthy Action I Recently Took: Voted!
Throughout 2020, local governments have faced unique challenges including shifting to a remote operating environment, navigating uncertainty around revenue and operating needs, and facing demands to deliver services in new ways.
Prior to COVID-19, local government largely managed by patterns: “It’s what we’ve always done.” There was a linear, predictable planning approach. Now, we face new challenges around the ability to forecast where we’ll be in three, six, or nine months with changing revenue and workforce situations and evolving constituent needs.
New, online public service delivery is a change that’s likely here to stay. Following the urgent demand for online services at the outset of the pandemic came the expectation that those services are going to remain and keep rolling.
Virtual solutions that enable remote work, help navigate uncertainty, and facilitate new ways to serve are certainly responses to the COVID-19 crisis environment. Even more important, they are necessary for governments to be sure that when the next crisis hits — whether recession, hurricane, or something else — their technology is in place and flexible enough to support them.
To improve daily operations now and weather the next full-blown crisis or even smaller bump in the road, governments should implement comprehensive virtual solutions to better serve all stakeholders. Stakeholders in the broadest sense of the term include government employees, businesses, residents, other governments and agencies, and decision-makers and officials. Following are specific ways to meet the evolving needs of these groups.
Better Serve Government Employees
Employees’ ability to work remotely relies on transforming familiar, in-person workflows to new digital solutions. Virtual work solutions include web-based, cloud solutions that enable remote work and are easily scalable to add new functionality and evolve as community needs change. Digital content management, electronic time sheets, and employee self-service are examples that put key information at employee fingertips while replacing inefficient paper processes.
Better Serve the Business Community
Technology that connects the core functions of government internally and to the public can facilitate advanced business management and bolster community development. Solutions that automate business functions and enable self-service such as licensing, tax remittance, and fee collections expedite actions necessary for economic recovery. Modern community development software provides online or mobile permitting, inspection, payment, and enforcement functionalities 24/7.
Better Serve Residents
Governments that inform, engage, and enable action for their residents allow constituents to become a part of the government process. Successful, user-centered policy and program delivery not only provide easy ways for residents to interact with agencies and consume information that is relevant to them, they solve the challenge of people of going to multiple departments to conduct government business. Key components include remote accessibility and remote transactions, public-facing community engagement tools, and expansion of two-way engagement tools that allow residents to make payments, participate in virtual meetings, report non-emergency issues, request services, and respond to services.
Better Serve Students and Parents
For parents, caregivers, and school personnel, easy access to school and student information is essential. Student information systems should have mobile-capable portals from which real-time student information is accessible to students, parents, guardians, and district staff. Integrated student transportation systems and parent communication apps keep buses running on time even with subs and provide critical contact tracing and school and parent notification functionalities.
Better Serve Law and Justice Partners
Increasing access to the justice system for all residents means integrating justice partners and bringing court services to the convenience of constituents’ homes. Online dispute resolution helps individuals reach family or small claims case resolution from their own homes, outside of court hours. Virtual courts provide flexible options to handle cases through video technology.
Better Serve Stakeholders and Decision Makers
A secure, cloud-based infrastructure with self-service access facilitates transparency by providing up-to-data data that can illustrate trends, improve financial oversight, reduce costs, and engage the public and officials region-wide. Open data dashboards and maps help leaders collect and make sense of data to draw correct inferences and take smarter action.
Security threats to government systems increase every year. Integrating people, processes, and technology (with frequent checks of all three), is the foundation of a lasting cybersecurity culture. Developing a cybersecurity culture also includes policies and procedures that account for continuity of operations, disaster recovery, and incident response.
The Future Shaped by Technology
The virtual solutions noted above not only better serve all key stakeholders, they provide governments with resource-saving efficiencies. In the context of uncertain fiscal impact and evolving community needs, strategies that make operations smarter and more sustainable are critical to move governments solidly into the future. The focus on virtual solutions is especially important as governments realize the value of mobility, online engagement, and remote citizen interaction.
The continuation of remote work, investment in secure networks, and improved engagement and communication will drive ongoing innovation to strengthen governments and communities they serve well into the future.