It’s important to make sure that the digital path forward is one every citizen can be involved in, even if it’s just through a webpage or a smartphone app.

Local government is a quintessentially American concept. Sure, the federal government often seems like a daunting entity — especially during this recent election cycle — but local government is what gives citizens the most say in how their community operates day by day. In a way, local government represents the best of American democracy. This is where real people make real decisions that impact their lives and the lives of those around them.

As can be imagined, though, local government is not the most well-supported portion of the American political system, which can cause constraints when attempting to serve the needs of the population. After all, most people tend to not care as much about what goes on outside of their own communities. Local governments also regularly deal with smaller budgets and a lack of support beyond absolute necessities.

However hamstrung local governments can feel as a result of their tighter purse strings and strict operating limitations, there is a bright ray of hope available that might actually be perfectly suited to address many of local government’s chiefest concerns — digital capabilities. In fact, it’s easy to argue digital capabilities are better suited to handle the specific needs of smaller governments than those of the federal behemoth we all know so well.

Larger government entities contend with bipartisan political scheming and bureaucratic messes. At the local level, however, people and their concerns are of primary importance, and that’s where digital can shine.

Connect with the Community

Here’s the good news for local governments: In many ways, they have a leg up on their federal counterparts. Since local governments cater to smaller, more cohesive communities, they can come up with strategies targeted directly to the needs of the people they serve.

In response, more government agencies have turned to digital as a way to reach their citizenry, and citizens are starting to expect and request ways to make appointments, sign up for social assistance and report non-emergency issues from the internet or a mobile device. This is why various agencies in the U.S. government are scrambling to come up with a comprehensive digital strategy. Still, smaller local governments are finding it difficult to keep up with major city governments and the CDO-style approach the White House began using, adding a new layer of difficulty to their already tenuous situation.

But this doesn’t mean local governments are getting left behind completely. In the last few months, numerous local governments have made sensible and unique advancements by merging digital transformation into the local government experience, leading to improved communication between citizens and municipalities.

Other local governments, regardless of size, can and should follow suit. Putting together a well-designed digital playbook could be key for local governments to reach the populace in this digital age.

Implement Data Mapping

Data mapping is an essential piece of any well-implemented digital playbook. It’s become a top priority for many government entities, and local governments should get in on the action. This digital touchpoint’s value is multifaceted, and it presents a strong case for the importance of both big data and interactive design using understood visuals like maps.

Data mapping is especially useful in more centralized localities, as people tend to know every nook and cranny within their own neighborhoods and can compare data points with well-known visuals. Connecting these familiar areas to points on a map is what makes data mapping both useful and accessible.

Numerous governments have already started to utilize data mapping on a city-wide level. Seattle has released a functional map that provides citizens with information about fire hydrant locations and 911 responses, among other offerings. Municipalities in Iowa have also implemented data mapping to great success, using it to map snow plow routes and determine plowing schedules. This is wonderful news for commuters and other motorists, especially during heavy or sudden snowfalls.

Transform the Town Meeting into a Digital Collaboration

The town meeting has long been an accessible and significant of an effective local government. Whether the community is coming together for an on-the-books city council meeting, a homeowners’ association get-together or a more straightforward local board of education meeting, dealing with the immediate concerns brought forward and figuring out action plans to address them is a foundational element of the local government.

Regardless of how important or essential these meetings can be, they often fall victim to derailment by minor details, making the traditional town meeting feel impenetrable to a new resident or citizen. To deal with this issue, local governments have begun to make an effort to “meet citizens wherever they are” by transforming these meetings into a digital collaborations instead. Creating collaborative and responsive forums for the populace to raise concerns has already become a successful way for governments to meet and respond to their citizens.

Smaller governments can use these forums to assist them with more menial tasks, such as easy-to-access distribution of garbage collection schedules via digital channels. This can help local governments avoid wasting precious resources when budgets are already stretched to their limit.

Philadelphia is at the forefront of implementing this technology thanks to its innovative self-service 311 ecosystem for non-emergency government services. By providing users with information about potholes, broken traffic signals and various other street obstructions, Philadelphia’s 311 system can bridge communication gaps between the government and the community. It also allows people to report graffiti, abandoned vehicles and unsafe maintenance conditions in residential or municipal buildings – all from the convenience of a single website and from an iOS or Android mobile app.

Take a Page from Cities that Have Successfully Adopted a Digital Strategy

These varying initiatives all have one thing in common. They are built on a foundation of communication, which is the most important part of any transformative digital roadmap. New York City has one of the most inspiring examples of a successfully implemented digital strategy, and it’s been providing insights that can be useful for any town, no matter how small, medium or large it is. Certainly, no other city in the United States, or even possibly the world, can match New York’s need for a strong digital ecosystem that responds to the issues of a widely varied populace.

Creating a digital playbook has been a core concept for Centric Digital since our inception, and New York City has made its own, which is maintained on an easy-to-use website. New York’s version provides amazing insights to anyone interested in becoming part of the city’s digital footprint and seeing what the future holds for local governments.

Government is and should be most influenced by the views of the people, and New York’s digital platform allows residents to voice their concerns and influence the roadmap of the city’s future from anywhere with an internet connection. By allowing users to “upvote” ideas in much the same way that Reddit does, different government entities can figure out solutions to various problems based on popular demand. It also features a 12-principal program that outlines its strategic objectives in a way that’s both accessible and easy to understand, and consistently asks visitors for individual feedback. Even the smallest levels of local government can take advantage of these simple and useful feedback mechanisms.

Local governments have much to gain from implementing a well-planned digital strategy as they typically have more influence on the daily lives of their citizenry. It’s an easily attainable way for the people to voice their concerns in a way where they can expect to have a say in the solution.

Appeal to the Needs of the People

Election Day has just passed, millions of citizens have voted and this nail-bitingly close presidential race should be a wake-up call to citizens about government’s importance. Voting for the next president is paramount, but voting for local representatives is just as important as they have a more direct influence in the everyday lives of their constituents.

U.S. citizens might not have much say in executive orders or the inner workings of the federal government, but they do have the ability to improve their local community in a meaningful way. Local governments can connect to the people on a more personal level than larger governmental entities can ever hope to achieve. Change often begins locally, and this is especially true in smaller towns and cities.

This makes the needs of updating and innovating around new digital systems and processes more important than ever, and local governments should keep this in mind if they want to keep up with the demands of the future. It’s important to make sure that the path forward is one that every citizen can be involved in, even if it’s just through a webpage or a smartphone app.