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Digital inclusion is key to improving civic engagement

Citizen Engagement

State and local governments strive to improve civic engagement and the citizen experience. With digital services and online payments, agencies can better meet the needs and expectations of their constituents. To help those efforts succeed, digital inclusion should also be a priority.

Read this article to uncover:

  • The importance of civic engagement to better governance
  • The digital divide challenges that hinder citizen experience
  • The push for e-government services as a way to enhance service delivery

What’s citizen engagement?

Civic or citizen engagement is the interaction of residents with their governments or communities. It can encompass formal and informal activities, such as:

  • Paying taxes and requesting licenses and permits 
  • Ordering government-issued identification documents 
  • Reporting a pothole or streetlight outage
  • Voting on federal, state and local elections
  • Volunteering in a community garden

Civic engagement is pivotal to the democratic process, helping to build stronger societies. A report by Pew Research Center anticipates that, by 2030, more policy changes will be driven by digital civic engagement. Increased interactions between governments and their constituents benefit them both with:

Sense of community

Engaging in civic activities can help individuals develop a sense of purpose and increase their ties with their community. By reporting a pothole, for example, citizens help to make the roads safer. 

Effective decision-making

Getting involved in public hearings, for example, is an opportunity for constituents to participate in the decisions that affect their daily lives. By drawing on knowledge from a diverse group of people, governments can create more practical and effective solutions. 

Increased transparency

Citizen involvement contributes to making governments more transparent and accountable. Increased communication and trust between residents and local officials are critical to better governance. 

Citizen-centric services are strategic to government digital transformation

Citizen-centric services strengthen the engagement between governments and their constituents, with enhanced citizen experience becoming a top priority for government leaders. Agencies are looking for new ways to get in touch with their constituents to improve customer service and optimize operational processes.

Industry trends show that citizen experience is driving a series of digital government transformation initiatives. As per Deloitte’s research, what follows is the percentage of governments that, based on their digital transformation maturity, place citizen experience as a driver of their modernization:

  • Early stages: 55%
  • Developing: 89%
  • Maturing: 94% 

These findings suggest that improving customer experience, citizen engagement and transparency is a strategic objective for governments in different states of their digital maturity, but it’s even higher among digitally mature organizations.

Expanded efforts of government modernization during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the efforts to offer more and better online channels for civic engagement. Residents want to interact with their government anytime, anywhere and from any device. 

According to Gartner research with government CIOs, changes in citizen expectations that have occurred due to the pandemic include:

  • Use of digital channels and self-service 
  • Demand for new digital services and product

In a post-pandemic world, agencies will continue investing in government modernization to improve service delivery and user satisfaction. Gartner’s Accelerate Digital for Future-Ready Government Report indicates that “more than 60% of governments will have tripled citizen digital services” by 2023.

How the pandemic exposed the U.S. digital divide 

With lockdowns, broadband internet has become fundamental for access to jobs, education and healthcare. Many Americans, however, struggled with internet affordability and connectivity issues. That has been the case of students who lacked home internet access and had to use public Wi-Fi in restaurants’ parking lots to finish schoolwork, a phenomenon referred to as the homework gap.

The pandemic has therefore accentuated the signs of the digital divide across the nation. This term refers to the inequalities in the access and adoption of digital technologies, notably the gap in internet use. 

The call for digital equality 

Bridging the U.S. digital divide is one of the goals of the new bipartisan infrastructure bill in the U.S., which can also help to drive initiatives of digital transformation in government. The funding package includes a $65 billion investment to help ensure every American has access to high-speed internet. Lowering prices through the offer of low-cost affordable plans is also a measure indicated in the legislation.

Digital inclusion is not only about making broadband available to everyone. A significant portion of the population doesn’t access the internet due to reasons other than connectivity affordability. These are some of the challenges to digital equity:

  • Some residents indeed live in areas with no internet coverage or cannot afford those services. That’s the gap that the infrastructure bill seeks to address. Data from the White House indicates that more than 30 million Americans live in areas with no high-speed internet access, especially in rural communities
  • A portion of the population has no skills or capabilities to use the internet. This is generally known as digital literacy
  • Some constituents have no motivation or interest in accessing internet services. They might find it complicated and prefer in-person interactions
  • Some individuals do not trust internet services and fear providing information online
  • Americans with disabilities are less likely to go online, according to surveys. Over 7 million Americans have visual difficulty, as per the U.S. Census Bureau

Internet non-adoption is connected with several demographic variables, such as income, but is strongly associated with age. Pew Research Center‘s survey indicates that 25% of adults ages 65 and older report never going online.

Strengthening digital inclusion through e-government

Creating awareness of the benefits of digital technology, such as the convenience and security of online transactions, is crucial to overcoming common barriers to digital inclusion. Offering easy-to-use electronic services can incentivize citizens to go online rather than traveling to government offices and spending time in lines. 

More convenient offerings boost the adoption of online payments, positively impacting governments’ bottom online. For example, the City of St. Louis experienced a 98% year-over-year growth in online revenue collected after deploying PayIt.

Agencies can use digital government technology to improve the public sector performance and citizen experience while also helping to bridge the digital divide. With the right constituent management software, it’s possible to better engage citizens wherever they are. In order to do so, agencies need to: 

  • Offer seamless experiences through easy-to-use services
  • Reach all citizens by enabling access through phones, office branches, computers and mobile devices
  • Assure users that their online transactions are secure

PayIt enables government agencies to digitize hundreds of services and payments into a one-stop, self-service experience. Citizens can order documents as well as pay taxes and utility bills online and through mobile apps for the city government. But residents also have the option to pick up their phones and call in or go to a branch for in-person, contactless payments through point-of-sale (POS) systems. PayIt’s platform is built on AWS GovCloud and is PCI Level 1 Merchant certified.

How to improve service delivery in the public sector 

A key takeaway is that, for increased customer engagement and citizen experience, governments need to meet their citizens wherever they are. Practical ways to enhance user satisfaction in government include:

  • Easing out the process to order or renew documents and pay taxes and utility bills. With  PayIt’s digital wallet, for example, citizens can store all their documents, receipts and payment methods in one secure place
  • Using workflow automation to reduce errors and delays caused by manual processing. An automated workflow can help ensure quick and effective service delivery in the public sector by handling notifications, payments and approvals
  • Consolidating data across department silos and into a single citizen self-service experience that can be accessed from any device, anywhere and anytime
  • Keeping citizens informed about the status of their applications and the performance of government services. As noted by a PwC report, increased transparency is a trend in digital government associated with enhanced user satisfaction

Digital services for government boost operational efficiency and cost savings

Offering a government platform for digital services and payments enables agencies to provide a personalized and seamless experience that meets citizens’ evolving expectations while also improving back-end processes. For example, workflow automation frees up employees from manual tasks such as processing documents and payments. 

For customers, government automation means quicker service delivery and, as a result, better customer satisfaction. For agencies, the result is higher efficiency and lower operating costs. According to a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study conducted by Forrester Consulting, agencies deploying PayIt’s SaaS platform can save about $400k over three years from reducing walk-in visits and document and payment processing.

Deliver a superior citizen experience with PayIt’s government software

Here at PayIt, we believe that reaching the diversity of citizens no matter where they are is pivotal to good governance. Book a demo and learn how we can help you streamline your operations and engage your residents with a modern consumer experience.