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Is Local Government Keeping Pace with Digital Expectations?
As citizen expectations for online services continue to rise, 95 percent of the local government leaders who participated in a nationwide survey believe they have the responsibility to keep pace with their citizens’ digital habits --- up one percent from last year. The results of the second annual“What’s Next in Digital Communications for Local Government” survey, released today by the government website experts at Vision Internet, reveal that local government leaders are increasingly looking at citizens as “customers” who deserve the best service they can deliver.
“More people are accessing everything via mobile technology and apps. They want to pay a bill with two taps on their phone,” noted one survey participant. “People are losing patience with local governments that are not making services accessible and easy to use.”
“Residents and the community are using digital platforms more than ever; keeping pace with that technology is essential to reach those individuals where they are most active and attentive," said another.
Local officials from more than 140 municipal and county government agencies, with populations of less than 10,000 to nearly one million, assessed the current state of digital communications and projected future trends in the December 2015 online survey. A copy of the survey report and infographic are now available for download at www.visioninternet.com/whatsnextsurvey.
Echoing last year’s survey, the majority of 2015 local government participants described their agency website as “integral to their overall communications and public service strategy,” with 97 percent responding that it was either “essential” or “important.” Yet only 34 percent of respondents believe their website is “highly effective” today, while 78 percent predicted it would be highly effective by 2020, which most likely explains why “website upgrade” was the top digital priority identified by survey respondents for 2016.
A widespread challenge surfaced when participants rated how well their website serves their community in terms of “allowing visitors to conduct business online.” Only 4 percent gave an “outstanding” rating, while 21 percent said their website was “below average” or “poor.” Three-quarters said their website was “average” or “good” in delivering online services.
Other highlights of the 2015 study include:
- More than 91 percent of respondents predict that mobile government will be “essential” or “important” to their agency within the next 5 years.
- The majority (56%) of respondents track and analyze their digital website metrics at least once a month, with 4 out of 5 using the analytics to update their homepages.
- While guidelines and mandates to remove barriers that prevent interaction with or access to websites by people with disabilities increasingly are being enforced at the local level, 89 percent of respondents had moderate, weak or no knowledge of Federal web accessibility requirements.
“Website accessibility promises to be a big focus for local government leaders this year,” said Ashley Fruechting, Vision Internet’s senior director of strategic initiatives, “Just as poorly designed buildings can prevent citizens with disabilities from entering, poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers as well. Sharing best practices on how to eliminate these barriers is a key objective for our Vision team this year.”
The increasing importance of social media to local government operations showed the most significant year-over-year change, with a 10 percent jump in respondents who said it was “already having a significant impact” on local government operations -- to 92 percent from 82 percent. Nearly all respondents agreed it would have a significant impact by 2020, yet only 42 percent of respondents felt their current social media presence was “highly effective.”
Comparing views on effective channels for citizen communications today and tomorrow forecast an interesting shift. At the end of 2015, most respondents ranked e-mail as their most effective communications tool, followed by social media and news releases. A significant change was predicted for 2020, with social media jumping to the top “highly effective” spot, closely followed by agency website and SMS/Text.
The order of these 2020 predictions is in stark contrast to last year’s results. While expectations for highly effective agency websites by 2020 remained unchanged at 78 percent, social media leapfrogged to 84 percent in the 2015 survey from 63 percent in 2014. And predictions of the growing importance of SMS/Text skyrocketed to a “highly effective” rating of 61 percent from 37 percent in last year’s survey.
“Pervasive connectivity and the Internet of Things are creating smart cities that redefine the citizen experience,” Fruechting said. “To effectively engage citizens day in and day out, local government agencies must provide information and functionality that citizens value. The good news from this year’s survey is that local government leaders are increasingly embracing new tools and technologies to meet that challenge.”
For information about Vision Internet’s transformative government website technology, please call 888-263-8847 or visit visioninternet.com/inforequest.
Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., Vision is a national leader in government website design, development and hosting with more than 700 government, non-profit and education clients in U.S. and Canadian communities with populations that range from less than 1,000 residents to more than 5 million. For more than 20 years, Vision has created cost-effective solutions that increase government efficiency, build transparency and promote interactive communications with citizens. The company’s powerful, easy-to-use subscription-based content management system, visionLive™, keeps local government websites relevant and effective; and the new visionPulse™ community engagement platform enables local governments to gather feedback on important issues. In 2016 and 2017, Vision was named to Government Technology magazine’s GovTech 100, a listing of leading companies developing innovative or disruptive offerings to improve or transform government. The company also was named a top 10 company serving local government by Engaging Local Government Leaders in its 2016 ELGL Choice Awards.