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The Impact of Mobile on Citizen Engagement

From a recent Pew Study, nearly half (46%) of all American adults are smartphone owners. This is an increase of 11 percentage points from a survey conducted in May of last year, in which 35% of Americans reported being smartphone owners. The report also noted that two in five adults (41%) own a cell phone that is not a cell phone. This is an interesting statistic, as now more Americans own smartphones than basic cell phones.

The report continues:

Nearly every major demographic group—men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, urban and rural residents, the wealthy and the less well off—experienced a notable uptick in smartphone penetration over the last year. Overall adoption levels are at 60% or more within several cohorts, such as college graduates, 18-35 year olds and those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more.

Although this overall increase in smartphone ownership is relatively widespread, several groups saw modest or non-existent growth in the last year. Chief among these are seniors, as just 13% of those ages 65 and older now own a smartphone.

These statistics are fascinating to see, and interesting trends to monitor. As more Americans start to own smartphones, government can continue to grow in how it is using its mobile applications, and leveraging new technology for citizen engagement.

There are enormous benefits to mobility for citizen engagement. With the use of smartphones, citizens can easily report potholes, traffic light out outages, graffiti, or report other non-emergencies instances to their local government. These mobile applications have the potential to transform government, improve citizen engagement, enhance accountability and trust within government. Since the apps are so new, and case studies are not entirely yet defined, mobility is a trend to watch in the coming year. As more case studies start emerging, and more local communities start to develop applications – the real impact of mobile will take hold in government.

Mobility in government is an interesting area to look at, because mobility intersects with numerous elements of government. Mobility involves social media, citizen engagement, GIS, public works, public safety and can potentially make an impact on transparency and accountability for government. Mobility also is an instance of how government is working hard to keep pace with new and emerging technologies, and deliver services and information in a way that is demanded by citizens.

Good mobile apps have feedback loops, so citizens know when a request has been set and work has been completed. By providing this kind of feedback, citizens will feel more empowered to act and become agents of change within their community.


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CitySourced is a member of the Communications and Citizen Engagement Council. For more information on CitySourced, please join their group. The Innovators Local Gov Leaders is a space for government city leaders to discuss and share best practices on the use of technology to save time and money plus improve accountability to those they govern.

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Profile Photo Josh Folk

Great report. Every agency/company should be preparing for this. For example, IdeaScale recently made every ideation community mobile optimized. I expect mobile “participation” to increase and as a result provide new opportunities for citizen engagement.

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Profile Photo Patrick Fiorenza

Interesting bringing your ideation platform to mobile..That’s a good way to frame it – “participation to increase and as a result provide new opportunities for citizen engagement.” I think one the hard parts about mobile is making the value/business case for mobile apps in a time when budgets are so tight. Couple ideas to get around that is saying you offering more ways for citizens to connect, you’ll have to go mobile eventually based on current trends and finally, mobile is not always just about an app…texting/voice, lots of different ways to connect with people on basic cell phones, so it’s not just about smartphones always. Thanks for the comment!

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