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As a municipal government official or public service employee, you have a right to feel proud of what you do. At night you look out over your city, town or countryside. Lights are brightly twinkling. People are settling in for a good night’s sleep, feeling safer and more comfortable because of your efforts. You have the satisfaction of knowing that you are making a positive impact in tangible and meaningful ways. You’re making sure that the streets are orderly and maintained, that emergency services are available, that everyone has clean water, and so much more. You love the work – the sense of helping others, the satisfaction of making a difference.
Indeed, the municipal administrations of cities, towns, and rural areas impact their constituents’ day-to-day lives more profoundly than any other form of government. After all, the services you provide have a direct bearing on the quality of life of every single resident. They keep your community growing and thriving. People love to live where things are running smoothly. Businesses thrive as well, and new ones are attracted. Employment rates increase. Everyone benefits.
It takes a lot to juggle the over 700 services you provide. You hold a lot of responsibility. In her survey-report on issues that keep local government officials awake at night, Diligent Corporation’s Lena Eisenstein observed that,
“Soon after a successful election campaign, newly elected public officials begin to feel the weight of their responsibility as worry about the community’s state of affairs sets in — worry that often keeps them awake at night.”
According to Eisenstein’s findings, the top five stressors were:
To this formidable list, compiled in 2018, we must now add the COVID 19 pandemic. This new phenomenon affects all five of the above concerns. It also piles on a plethora of entirely new problems. As you well know, this pandemic not only threatens the health of your constituents, it also dramatically alters the social and financial cohesion of your community. Social gatherings are taking alternative forms. Businesses and jobs are in jeopardy. You have new government mandates to enforce. As a society, we have been shaken out of our complacent assumption that life will always go on as usual. And you can no longer assume that nothing like this will never happen again. Instead, you must resolve the present difficulties in ways that help to prepare for future eventualities. You have a lot of work to do.
Along with the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic, many municipalities, rural, urban and county, find that other factors are affecting their budgets as well. An ageing population means less taxes and more calls for community resources. At the same time, upper government funding is decreasing. Add to this the fact that internet platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Amazon are raising everyone’s expectations. People now expect speedy and convenient transactions and interactions. Furthermore, both your constituents and upper government funders are demanding more accountability and transparency than ever before. Regardless of whether you govern 3 million or 3,000 individuals, this is the new reality.
There is a lot at stake. If you drive through a rural countryside, you will see places that were once thriving communities, now diminished to a sign at the side of the road and a few houses. People die, businesses relocate, residents move away. You want to maintain your community’s vibrancy and see it thrive and grow into a place more people and businesses want to call home.
One positive offshoot of COVID 19 for rural communities is an unprecedented opportunity to attract new constituents. Many individuals and businesses have now become acclimated to working from home. Employees and entrepreneurs who were once tied, by their careers, to large cities can now leave the hustle and bustle and enjoy a rural lifestyle. These “transplants” infuse new funds and fresh energy into rural municipalities. However, this demographic is technologically sophisticated. They often have even higher municipal service expectations than their longer-term neighbors.
Technology has a vital role to play in addressing all of the above concerns. Throughout the physical distancing requirements of the COVID 19 pandemic, digital innovations have helped people maintain their family, social and political involvement in new ways. Indeed, the epidemic has challenged you to find alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar, face-to-face practices. There are digital solutions available that can help you provide effective, efficient and up-to-date services. The question is, how do you leverage these new capabilities to optimally address all your challenges?
One roadblock for many local governments is that they still view their digital assets as a back-office tool, a glorified typewriter or an intelligent calculator. This may have worked in the past. But to optimize your resources and reach your potential in today’s changing environment, you need to approach your digital assets as enablers that sit at the heart of every service you offer and every transaction you complete. To incorporate the best digital solutions into your administration you will need to embrace change on many levels. To do this, you start with a digital transformation strategy and a plan to execute it in the upcoming years.
Digital transformation involves examining all your services, processes and functions and thinking creatively about enhancing and/or streamlining them through innovative digital solutions. As a municipal government, this gives you the opportunity to reinvent yourself in line with your highest aspirations. If there is a gift of these complicated, fraught times, this is it. You can come out more vital, more receptive, more responsive, more relatable -more of all that will make you an effective steward of your community.
A well-executed digital transformation plan will enable you to change with the times. You can provide your constituents with simple, paperless ways to get information, make applications, or have basic questions answered without waiting for a staff member to become available. Furthermore, both citizens and funders will witness, through your enhanced data collection and communication, how efficiently you are using resources. You will be able to grow your community in new and exciting ways. And, most importantly, you just may be able to sleep better at night, knowing that you have things well in hand.
Eisenstein, Lena (2018) Our Survey Shows the Top-Five Issues that Keep Local Government Officials Awake at Night.
Carol Casey has a bachelor’s degree in Gerontology from Laurentian University and a Bachelor of Adult Education degree from Brock University. She has worked for many years as a nurse in community care. Newly retired, she is focusing on her writing and other creative endeavors, including video and internet course creation. She has published poems in multiple periodicals and anthologies.
Joseph founded INVORG focusing on 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.