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Engagement Portals: Smart Services for Smart Cities

Say “goodbye” to long government wait times and standing in line for simple applications and renewals. The new trend for cities, counties and states across the country is to provide citizens with an easier way to communicate, receive services and do business with government agencies. By leveraging the Internet on their computers or personal mobile devices, citizens now have a direct line to engage government service providers.

This is just one piece of a larger and growing initiative that is most commonly referred to as “Smart Cities.” The idea that municipal software and technology can strategically interact with personal technology to streamline and ultimately create a better everyday experience for citizens and visitors is now becoming a reality.

Sooner than one would expect, major metropolitan cities will have technology and innovation aligned to create a system of “smart” services. These will encompass everything from public transportation to health services, safety systems to energy and waste. Companies like Panasonic, Hitachi, Oracle and Cisco are forming partnerships and making heavy investments to bring this next generation of tools and services to your doorstep and mobile device.

One example is the investment Panasonic is making within the City of Denver. In conjunction with the new RTD Light Rail station between downtown Denver’s Union Station and the Denver International Airport, Panasonic is creating an operation hub for its Enterprise Solutions division located at the Pena Station NEXT development. The proposal speaks to a city of the future with “cutting-edge solar energy use, in-home tele-medicine technology and video used for traffic management and security,” according to the Denver Business Journal.

Ultimately, these types of smart city initiatives will drive community engagement, and promote energy efficiency, public safety and water conservation. One of the biggest incentives for these types of initiatives is that they will save governments money due to more self-service, quicker delivery of services, and a more efficient feedback mechanism. We are getting closer to The Jetsons than we ever knew, minus flying cars. The fact that more than 80% of Americans have access to the Internet or are online throughout the course of their day is a key driver of these exciting innovations. Most of us have grown very accustomed to easily searching online for information and answers to almost any question, from any location. The notion of instant and transparent access to information and services should and can carry over to areas in life where efficiency can be improved, such as government/citizen interactions.

One area where we are already seeing this improvement is on city and county websites, often known as Citizen Engagement portals. The City and County of Denver partnered with EffectiveUI on a “government on the go” initiative almost two years ago. With a strong background and years of experience in digital engagement over various types of users and stakeholders, EffectiveUI was able to leverage research and design best practices to help shape the model for what is today PocketGov.

After some research, trials and iterative feedback, Denver now has a robust responsive website that provides its citizens with direct access to services such as DMV renewals, street sweeping and waste service schedules, election locations and information, and current events and happenings for both visitors and locals alike. Having this depth of information readily available at the click of a button is one reason this offering is so appropriately named PocketGov. At www.pocketgov.org, users can sign up and customize their experience to receive alerts, notifications and general information about the neighborhood they live in. Imagine getting a reminder to put your recycling out the night before, or that you shouldn’t park your car on the street on a certain day because the street sweeper is coming. These are just a few of the free services that Denver’s citizen portal provides.

No matter where you are located, cities, counties and states have made a mountain of information and services available within a matter of seconds (or clicks). In many cases, you no longer have to wait hours in line until your number is called for a simple question and answer. Citizen portals empower citizens to engage with government agencies to meet their own needs, as well as explore additional services, upcoming events and even local and historical knowledge. The best part about these sites is the constant evolution, specifically new features and services that are added on a regular basis based on citizen feedback. Citizen engagement and feedback are key components to the success and rapid adoption of these new tools. The more we as citizens are able to engage and access our government, the greater the drive toward innovation, raising the bar for other municipalities throughout the country.