Budgeting Out in the Open

In today’s society, most people have a computer and an Internet connection. The Internet is enabling people to communicate in new fantastic ways. Instead of phone calls or attending public forums, people are having video chats in real-time from thousands of miles away and blogging their thoughts on their favorite topics. Everyday computers are used as a tool to facilitate communication without the need for face-to-face contact .

Worldwide acceptance of this new digital medium has changed the way people expect to interact with the world and expect the world to interact with them. This advantage has not gone unnoticed as nearly every business in existence now has a webpage. Many companies now operate exclusively over the Internet, allowing very limited staff to perform operations that were once very labor-intensive and expensive.

Even though this technology has been so rigorously accepted by a large portion of the population, in the public sector very few jurisdictions ever take advantage of the tools available at their fingertips. By engaging in poorly designed, out-dated forms of communication, jurisdictions waste time/resources and risk disenfranchising their citizens. A thoughtful application of mainstream technology would greatly help to better involve the public with government actions. Once goals for how to engage the public are set, properly using various methods of digital communication can help your department make the public participation process drastically more efficient.

Using these tools can help boost citizen confidence in the managerial skills of their local government, reduce the cost of engaging the public, gain insight into what public priorities are and increase public awareness in local government initiatives. There are many methods to communicate digitally – it is important your jurisdiction decide what methods are best for you and design actions to fully utilize the tools you find are most effective. A few examples found in the private sector are:

  • Online Forums – Use of online blogs can help gauge public approval for intended actions, get citizen’s ideas for how money should be spent, track citizen satisfaction of jurisdictions performance or any number of things. The important part is that citizens can post comments at any time, forums can be set up for very little cost on existing websites and you can track information on individual citizens for future communication.
  • Video Meetings – Instead of a public forum at City Hall, why not hold a virtual meeting? Government officials can tape and stream their presentations real time while citizens watch online. Citizens can engage by asking questions using a microphone or type questions to the forum officials over a standard text messenger. The cost of the tools to enable having video meetings is low and you can engage members of the public that would otherwise be unable to attend a physical meeting. The important part is that you can reach a much larger audience with your message and better gauge public perceptions.
  • Live Chat – Many websites have an easy to find link on the home page so users can contact an official using a standard text messenger rather than making a phone call. A person can instantaneously have a question answered using an instant messenger program. This is preferable to many people as it simplifies the communication process to a simple button click rather than having to search a directory and hope the person you are calling is available.
  • Surveys – Online surveys are a great way to involve the public in a more passive way. They can be anonymous, it is a faster way to gain information than in a online forum or video meeting setting, and by adding an easy to find link on your home page you can get data about website visitors that would otherwise be lost. By creating a survey page on your existing website you help spread the message to you citizens that you are interested in their opinion.
  • Mailing Lists – Place an easy to find link on your home page so users can subscribe to mailing lists. Once you have this information, you can use it for public notices, public reports, surveys or newsletters (like this one!)
We all need to improve the level of technology within the government today and promote use of internet tools to foster efficiency. I am new to this site, long working to promote better budgeting practices within my company’s budgeting software. I hope all the members here at GovLoop can help promote the use of the internet to promote best practices around the nation.

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