DorobekINSIDER Live – Redefining Citizen Engagement

A special edition of GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER today. We're LIVE! It's the sixth time we’ve met and we are doing this at least once each month this year. The idea is simple: get smart people together and share ideas because we believe that the real power of information comes when it is shared.

On Tap Today: 

The DorobekINSIDER Panelist:

  • Scott Burns, CEO & Co-Founder, GovDelivery
  • Nicole Callahan, New Media Analyst, Federal Student Aid, Department of Education
  • Relmond Van Daniker, Executive Director of the Association of Government Accountants
  • Dr. Ted R. Smith, Chief, Louisville Metro Economic Growth & Innovation
  • Patrick Fiorenza is GovLoop's Senior Research Analyst


Biggest Challenge with Citizen Engagement

Burns: The number one challenge isn't the technology, it is the creating an audience. Often times there is a very small community that is willing to participate or bring ideas to the table. The second big challenge is figuring out how to map engagement to the citizen. You need people to buy in. Without it you end up creating a platform that no one participates in. 

Smith: The key is really being clear about how and where you are operating. True citizen engagement is more than just pot holes, you need buy in on the major issues too. You can't cherry pick the conversation topics. You have to be IN the conversation. You need the conviction to be engaged in the mainstream conversations. It also requires intense follow-up.

Callahan: Two years ago we created a Customer Services Group here at Student Aid. Every year roughly 20 million perspective students fill out the FAFSA form.We have a digital engagement team. We've learned we have to be social customers who listen to students who are in the middle of filling out the form. When students get frustrated, they tweet about it. We want to know that. We want to pull feedback straight from the consumers mouth. You have to include negative feedback. We've also started online office hours. So once a month we have subject matter experts log on to answer questions. We are averaging two tweet responses to every question. So users are getting a huge value from office hours. 

Van Daniker: There is overwhelming distrust of our government right now. People don't know what to believe. So we've put together a format to create citizen centric reports. They should be four pages long. This is especially revalent for financial information. One page one there should be demographics. Page two is performance indicators. Page three is financial pie charts. The information needs to be digestible, you can always link to an audit. Page four is where you highlight the biggest challenges. If government cannot connect to citizens in a positive way the begin to question the authority of the government. 

Does Everyone Participate? 80-20 Rule

Smith: Most citizens have opted out of participating in government. They just count on services like paying taxes and fire and police. 80% of people are just happy to have services delivered to them. The 20% are the people who really want to participate. Before social media the 20% was pretty much activists. Now the group is growing and cares not about one singular issue but they are trying to reform the way government services are delivered. It creates a new dimension in the process, now government must listen to their citizen consumers. 

Burns: You should use the time when people are forced to participate in government to expand your reach. For example the Department of Revenue in Minnesota knew they wanted a long range solution for citizen engagement. So during tax season they used the fact that people had to pay taxes to get them to sign up for email and text alerts. They were able to build up an audience of people who they could then send to their road shows and other events. 

Does the Platform Matter?

Callahan: We didn't have the resources to build our own platform from scratch, but that turned out to be a good thing, because it allowed us to use the tools that our users were already using. Tools like twitter and Facebook. You also have to know your audience. For example, we've become data focused. Facebook is a good source to reaching out to parents. Students use youtube and twitter more. You have to cater to your audience. 

Move to Mobile

Smith: Mobile is a game-changer not because of the app economy but because devices have become mediators between citizens and the government. What mobile has made possible is instant information. If you need to know something you can access it anywhere. 

Callahan: We have found in low-income communities they are skipping laptops all-together. So a huge part of our strategy is to make sure that the information we provide is easy to decipher and read on a mobile device. 

Burns: Mobile is a trend that is affecting everyone. One day soon with QR code type of systems you will be able to swipe your phone over a wand and sign up for alerts and emails at parks for example. I am most interested to see how we are able to tie geographic information to smart phone. So if you are headed to a park you can see the updated parks information on your phone. 

Recommendations to Make Citizen Engagement Better

Smith: Government needs to be dialed into the conversations that are already going on. 

Callahan: You can't please the masses all the time, but you can be responsive and people respect you if you follow-up. 

Van Daniker: We need more support from the President to push for engagement. He needs to recommend that forms should be made in easily digestible formats. 

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This panel was brought to you by GovDelivery!

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