Tips for Going Digital When your Agency Loves Paper


It’s easy to say “let’s go digital” but another matter to get organizational buy-in, especially when you work at an agency that has used the same paper-based processes for decades.

I’m new to local government. When I arrived at my current gig, my role was to innovate and improve our internal and external communications. I knew which processes needed to be digitized, but quickly recognized that success was less about implementing new digital tools and more about building an organizational culture that is open to change and innovation.

Slow your roll. It is easy to get excited about all the ways you and bring your agency into the digital era of governance, but make sure you do your due diligence. New digital tools need to work for everyone– staff and the public. Reach out to people in different departments and learn about their processes. Distribute surveys to the public to learn about their experiences interacting with your organization. Your digital strategy should complement what is working well and improve the processes that are not effective.

Needs Assessment. To plan and implement a successful digital strategy you need a clear understanding of where the organization is at. When I first arrived, I looked at:

  • What devices are staff using? For what purposes?
  • What are technologies are other local agencies using?
  • What programs do staff use in their day-to-day work, are they effective?
  • What are the levels of technical competency across the organization?
  • Can crews get online while out in the field? How difficult is it to do so?
  • What instruction manuals or technical training has been offered in the past?

Be Strategic. Pick the right kick-off project to demonstrate the benefits of “going digital.” My first project was to overhaul our pothole reporting system. The old system consisted of hundreds of individually printed reports of potholes which created confusion and a lot of data-entry. I moved the program to a digital format where staff could review and close pothole requests online with a couple of clicks. By picking a project that was easy to use, improved everyone’s workflow and eliminated data-entry, I was able to build greater trust and support of other digital initiatives.

Communicate. Don’t work in isolation. Explain what’s changing and why it is changing. Talk to people, especially those who are most apprehensive. Adopting new technology is not as simple as signing a contract, installing a program and writing up a how-to guide. You need to frame why the change is happening and how it will improve workflow. Set expectations early and often. I ran into a lot of initial resistance when proposing the use of new technologies because it was assumed that digital tools would create more work, but really the goal has been to help staff be more efficient.

Continuous Improvement.  Making your agency a digital player is about the long-game. You don’t do X, Y, and Z and suddenly you are “digital.” The digital landscape is always changing. You should work to cultivate an organizational mindset of innovation and openness to change. I hold “Fix It Hours” one morning per week where I am available to troubleshoot glitches and answer questions. Over time, Fix It Hours have transitioned to a space where co-workers swing by to share their ideas on how to make our tech even better.

Digital Isn’t Always The Answer. I love technology and am often quick to assume that new digital programs will improve our practices, but there have been a few occasions where I had to take a step back and recognize my audience. Just because you can do something digitally doesn’t mean you should. There are still parts of our county with no broadband internet access. We cannot completely transition away from our traditional outreach of printed newsletters, brochures and public meetings. Sometimes it is the old fashion, immeasurable word-of-mouth that gets our message to the public most effectively.

Katie Parrish is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). You can also find Katie on Twitter at @kjparrish To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply