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5 Ways to Create the Virtuous Cycle of Citizen Engagement

Conversations on citizen engagement tend to discuss the proper role of government and explore the proper engagement levels of citizens. Yet, before any of those important conversations can take place, agencies need to focus on setting the proper citizen engagement foundation, which will allow organizations to build new and innovative citizen engagement strategies.

Post Highlights

  • Citizen engagement cannot be improved without setting a foundation
  • Focusing on leadership, transparency and efficiency is essential to improved citizen engagement
  • Explores and defines how government can create a virtuous cycle of citizen engagement

In this post, I wanted to take a step back and focus on some of the foundational elements of citizen engagement, which I believe are leadership, transparency and efficiency. By laying these foundational elements, agencies can enter into what I am defining as the “virtuous cycle of citizen engagement” – when each element reinforces and strengthens each other.

Citizen engagement presents many unique challenges to public sector organizations. Although, in many cases, technology exists to deliver improved services, and at times, is the easy part of the solution. The hard part is questions such as:

  • How do we effectively navigate cultural and organizational roadblocks?
  • Is this service what constituents are demanding?
  • How is this going to help us meet our mission needs?
  • What are we actually trying to solve?
  • How do we get constituents to engage with these new initiatives?

These questions cannot even begin to be explored if the foundation is not set, and the cornerstone of the foundation rests on three elements, leadership, transparency and efficiency.


In government, leadership is extended in many different ways. There are our elected officials, political appointees and public sector employees managing government programs. In all cases the underlying theme is leaders must operate selflessly, openly and collaboratively to improve communities. This can happen at any level of government. Regardless of any organizational chart placement, anyone can lead and change organizations for the better.


Transparency in government is essential as well, a transparent government is one that will enable trust, build communities, and provide another layer of awareness for citizens. Through transparency, agencies can fight corruption, improve trust and add in pressure for leaders to act in the best interest of the community.


Efficiency is a core to delivering improved constituent services and engagements. Learning ways to automate tasks, improve workflows, publish critical data and information, all feed into a healthy and vibrant government. Efficiency is the backbone of engagements, and without looking and honing in on how to be more efficient, organizations will not improve citizen engagement programs. In the end, citizens want to see and feel results from their activism or improvements from their past engagements.

These three elements are essential to citizen engagement, but they are not mutually exclusive of each other. In my estimation, these three elements create a multiplier effect for citizen engagement. As public servants and citizens, our task is to turn this multiplier effect into a virtuous cycle of government-to-citizen engagement. Focusing in on leadership reinforces transparency and efficiency, and heightened transparency enables improved leadership and efficiency. If you’re not efficient – you’re not showing sound leadership and likely, not transparent. This is the basic foundation that needs to be set for improved citizen engagement initiatives.

Starting this virtuous cycle of citizen engagement is not an easy task for organizations, and as we’ve already learned, the first start is being sure to have a solid foundation for engagements. Below I’ve identified 5 ways to create the virtuous cycle of citizen engagement.

1- Set the Foundation: Leadership, Transparency, and Efficiency

Building on previous comments – you simply cannot improve citizen engagement without leadership, transparency and efficiency as your starting blocks. As GovLoop has highlighted throughout this year, many of these needs can be accomplished with enterprise content management software. The ability to manage documents effectively is part of the foundation – good leadership recognizes the need to digitize, the new efficiencies ECM can deliver, and how ECM is the engine that can power a more transparent, efficient and effective government.

Once documents are managed, and the foundation has been set – there door opens to the virtuous cycle of citizen engagement. At a very basic level, how can an organization possibly improve the way services are delivered if documents are not managed properly? What if project tasks get lost in piles of paper? Shouldn’t this task simply be subject to automated reminders? This is why the process of document management and managing paper helps to set the foundation for citizen engagement initiatives.

Beyond just the technology advantages, there is truly a human element that no amounts of technology will ever solve, and whenever we are adopting new technology, services or conducting upgrades – we cannot underestimate the human element. Technology can empower employees, bring back a sense of pride, and allow agencies to be more efficient in the day-to-day operations. All of this leads to improved citizen engagement programs, a healthier democracy and a modern government.

2- Do the Basics: Customer First

Everything that you do – the customer should be placed first. Make this a mantra for your agency. Yet, remember, the customer may not necessarily be your only constituent. At times, customers are government-to-government. To build a virtuous cycle, collaboration needs to occur between agencies, by doing so, the outward facing services will move seamlessly and more efficient.

3- Prepare for Future Constituent: Take on Innovative Engagements

As we continue to see, the way government operates today is going to be different in three years. Technology is moving at an incredible speed- so what is imperative today is that agencies need to engage with constituents through new mediums, and prepare for the future constituent. Not only does this mean taking on social media initiatives, mobile programs, self service portals or big data initiatives – this means developing the infrastructure to support new programs. We’ve talked about it a lot at GovLoop about “scalable solutions” – this is what we are getting at, solutions that prepare organizations for the future constituent. Be sure to look at our recent infographic highlights enterprise content management and touches on this concept as well, (view here).

4- Create a Journey Map

Journey maps are remarkable tools. A journey map experience lets you “walk a mile” in a customer shoes. A journey map allows you to chart out every step and interaction the customer takes, map out the process and engagement points. Along the journey, you’ll learn spots you can improve – maybe it is a software upgrade to improve efficiencies or provide more customers training. The important step is to be honest and forthright with what you can improve, all adding in to the virtuous cycle of engagement.

5- Share and Get Results

Ultimately, results are what matter for improved engagements and enabling a virtuous cycle of engagements. Decrease call volumes, call wait time, processing claims faster, reducing wait times at the DMV, all of these will help create the virtuous cycle of citizen engagement. Share these results and be proud of them, your organization earned them through hard work – and seeing success in front of you set the bar, and inspire the team to do more.

The way that government engages with constituents is quickly changing. Agencies must think strategically how they will interface with the public, and hone in on strategies to empower and encourage heightened citizen engagement. This all starts with a concerted effort to take a step back and reflect on what kind of foundation is needed to deliver services in a quickly changing landscape for government employees.

As new technology emerges and citizens continue to engage with government in new ways, government must continue to seize the opportunity that has been presented, and build the foundation of citizen engagement to build and modernize government agencies.

For more information on ECM, please take a look at GovLoop resources:

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OnBase is a proven enterprise content management solution for each level of government, helping each meet today’s challenges of smaller budgets and staffs while laying the foundation for simplified, efficient and mobile government information technology. To learn more, visit Hyland’s resources page on GovLoop.

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