Why local governments must keep constituent engagement at their center.

Why constituent engagement is so important and how local governments can begin to improve it. 

Photo by Mauro Mora on Unsplash

Local governments play a big role in our communities. They create and pass laws and regulations every day that impact the way we live our lives. From permit-issuing to road maintenance, to garbage collection, there are many ways our local government impacts our daily lives. Because they have such a large impact on our daily lives, it is becoming clear that for local governments to have a greater impact on our lives, constituent engagement must be their top priority and at the center of everything they do. We are going to examine why constituent engagement is so important, and how governments can benefit from making it their top priority. 

Why constituent engagement matters 

Local governments are extremely close to their constituents. Unlike federal, state, provincial or regional governments, who mostly operate looking at the bigger picture of the entire country or state or province or region, local governments deal with problems that directly affect the people of their county or township and their day-to-day lives. This is why constituent engagement is so important. 

Let’s look at an example. The roads we drive on every day are largely maintained by our local governments. They also have a large impact on the constituents who are the stakeholders of this local government because they are the ones using them every day. If those roads are not being maintained properly, constituents of that local government will suffer. But how do we make the roads better? Obviously, there are things like maintaining them better, repaving them more often, and using better material, but how will the local government even know there is a problem if their constituents are not able to tell them effectively? This is where constituent engagement comes into play. If the local government had an efficient way for constituents to report problems with the roads, they would clearly know they need to fix the problem and constituents would feel heard and be more likely to have their problems solved. 

If constituents do not have an effective way to engage with their local governments, they are not able to be part of solving problems or making their township or city or village better, which many constituents want to do. This is why constituent engagement is so important. If local governments are unable to hear from their constituents, everyone in the community suffers.  

Types of constituent engagement 

Townships and counties and cities are big places with many different operations. Let’s look at some of the common operations that directly affect the constituent experience within a township or county or city. 

  1. Having effective services such as: 
    • Packs and rec services 
    • Transportation services 
    • Road conditions and maintenance 
    • Garbage collection and disposal 
    • Education services 
    • Water and hydro services 
    • Health and wellness services 
  2. Allowing constituents to directly engage with their local government 
  3. Allowing constituents to apply for permits, licenses, etc. at their convenience  
  4. Reducing the cycle time of permits, licenses, etc. from start to finish 
  5. Allowing constituents to pay for services and other items at their convenience 
  6. Keeping taxes low/affordable 

 This is by no means an exhaustive list, however, all these things and more directly affect the constituent experience and should be approached with the constituent experience as a top priority.  

The current state of constituent engagement 

Many local governments currently do not pay enough attention to constituent engagement and the ways their constituents’ access and use the services their local governments provide. Let’s look at another example. Many local governments require residents to apply for permits when undergoing major renovations on their property. In some cases, for residents to get the appropriate permits, they need to make their way to city hall and wait in line for someone to serve them. Once they have been served, there are usually multiple documents that need to be acquired and brought back to local government office and submitted. This process can sometimes be very tedious as there is a lot of information to collect. Once the information is submitted, they must wait for the approval of the permit by the local government. In some cases, the approval process can take a very long time, and during all that time waiting, the resident must wait to complete their renovation. In some cases, after waiting that long, they find that their permit was denied and must start the process all over while making the appropriate adjustments so their second attempt will be successful. This is a very long a strenuous process that very quickly becomes frustrating for the resident. Because of this frustration, many residents may think it would be better to simply not get the permit at all and do the work illegally. This in turn can create huge problems for the local government and may cause even more problems for the resident further down the road.   

Unfortunately, this is how many local governments operate. There is very little consideration for the constituent and how these processes affect their lives. If more local governments were able to change their processes so that constituents can better access things like permits, it would solve a lot of problems for both the constituent and the local government.  This will improve the overall experience of the constituents and their quality of life. 

Why is this the current state 

There are many factors that have led to this lack of constituent engagement. We are going to look at some of the common factors that limit how local governments engage with their constituents.

  

1.Lack of resources 

It is no secret that many local governments face lack of resources. To keep costs low, over time, many local governments find themselves lacking critical resources including technology, personnel, and facilities to effectively provide the services their constituents require. This only frustrates constituents more because they feel as though their tax dollars are being wasted, and not being put toward things that would help them the most. In addition, demographic shifts and aging populations cause many local governments to see continuous reduction in their financial capability. Beyond local tax dollars, many local governments rely on donations and private funding to pay for upgrades and improve their resources. Unfortunately, when those donations are not available, they must make do with the resources they already have.  

 

2.Outdated internal processes and organizational silos 

Many local governments have failed to advance their processes with the 21st century. In today’s world, people are used to getting what they need at the click of a button. Unfortunately, because many local governments have not advanced their internal processes to accommodate that, they are forced to use old and outdated processes that take more time and more manpower to complete. This lack of innovation also creates organizational silos that keep information stored where only certain people can find it. This makes things harder for people working in the government because they are forced to find or collect their own information that may already be there. 

 

3.Lack of data 

Due to a lack of innovation, many local governments do not have useful data. This means it is hard for them to see when they have a problem or how problems are being created which makes them harder to solve. Having good data that is accessible helps local governments see where they need to improve. It also helps show them where they need to focus their resources to have the biggest impact possible. Data is extremely important for improving this efficiently and effectively. It helps ensure that wherever you are focusing your efforts is where you will see the biggest outcome. 

 

4. Lack of proper technology 

Many local governments also lack the appropriate technology. Technology is a major factor in making communication effective and efficient. Things like integration, centralization of data, optimization of resources, timely and accurate access to information, etc. are all directly impacted by the type of technology you are using. Proper technology also allows for things like atomization which can help ease the stress of having a lack of resources.  

The Future of constituent engagement 

Constituent engagement is only going to become more important in the future. If we look back on the past two years, COVID-19 has made a huge impact on the world and how it operates. Technology was the go-to solution for services that needed to go from in-person to virtual as fast as possible. Instead of waiting until there is no other option but to go online, local governments need to embrace technology now so they will be ready for similar situations in the future. Scientists believe that pandemics might be the way of the future, so there is no better time to prepare than right now. Local governments need to take what they have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic embrace it to make real changes. These changes will help them bring the constituent experience into the center of what they do, making them overall more successful.

Conclusion 

Local governments are the driving force behind communities. In order for them to be successful now and in the future, they need to put constituents at the center of what they do. Technology and digital transformation are a great way for local governments to embrace their constituents and improve how they offer their services. At the end of the day, local governments have everything to gain by embracing digital transformation and bring their constituents to the center of everything they do. MyGovLinks is a tool designed to improve constituent engagement and make it easy for local governments to bring the constituent into the center of everything they do. To learn more about MyGovLinks and how to get started, visit our website here. 

About the authors:  

Hannah Hiller

Hannah is a professional content creator and writer. After graduation from the Public Relations program at Cambrian College, Hannah has gone on to start a successful freelance writing career. She is passionate about bringing words to life in a way that makes complicated topics more approachable. From website content to full articles, Hannah loves to find ways to communicate with any audience effectively. She currently lives and works in Sudbury Ontario.  

Joseph  Edward

Joseph founded INVORG focusing on a client-centric service delivery platform for innovating local organizations, not-for-profits, home and community support  organizations, and small to medium-sized businesses. Joseph holds a Chief  Information Officer Certification from Carnegie Melon University, USA, and from the US General Services Administration. He is an IT veteran with over 20 years of leadership in technology, including four years as CTO for the city of London. 

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