Making Government Work

When Cities Get Connected, Civic Engagement Improves

December 18, 2014
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When Cities Get Connected, Civic Engagement Improves
Residents of Avondale, Ariz. engage through an online forum. Screen capture
What are the latest digital trends among local governments?

With tighter budgets and fewer resources, local governments are turning to technology to stay connected to residents and improve their systems. According to the Digital Cities Survey published by Government Technology magazine, four major tech trends are visible across most of the participants, which range from cities with populations of 50,000 to more than a million.

1. Open data
Transparency is important for governments and thanks to technology, it’s easier to achieve than ever. Leading the pack of cities with easily accessible data records is New York City. The Big Apple started its open data system in 2012 and now has 1,300 data sets available for viewing. Chicago ranks second with over 600 data sets, while San Francisco scores the highest rating in U.S. Open Data Census for open data quality.

Open data isn’t limited to the country’s biggest cities, however, as mid-size Tacoma, Wash., offers 40 data sets and Ann Arbor, Mich,. has financial transparency data that is updated daily, according to Governing.

2. Stat programs and data analytics
These types of initiatives originated in the 1980s with the NYPD merging data with staff feedback, but have expanded to other cities. Louisville, Ky., now has Louiestat, which is used to spot weaknesses in performance and cut the city’s bill for unscheduled employee overtime.

Governing reports that data analytics are also a popular tool to gauge performance. In Denver, Phoenix and Jacksonville, Fla., local governments use them to sort through all their data sets in search of patterns that can be used for better decision-making.

3. Online citizen engagement
As social media becomes more prevalent in daily life, governments are getting on board to stay connected. Through social media sites and online surveys, local governments are using social media to engage their residents in local issues.

One such city is Avondale, Ariz. (population of 78,822), which connects a mobile app and an online forum for citizen use. Citizens can post ideas on the forum and then residents can vote yay or nay.

4. Geographic information systems
Although it’s been around for a long time, cities are updating the function of GIS to help make financial decisions that will, in turn, improve performance, public transit and public safety as well as organize social service and citizens engagement activities.

Augusta, Ga., recently won an award for its transit maps, while in Sugar Land, Texas, GIS is used for economic development and citizen engagement with 92 percent survey respondents citywide.

Based on all this, it seems that cities have embraced the tech craze.

MORE: Which 3 Cities are Fighting Poverty Through a Tech Cohort?

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