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Modernizing Bureaucracy: How Technology Can Take Your Local Legislature to the 21st Century

Posted on May 21, 2015

In our town there's a popular side street that acts as shortcut for people who know the neighborhood. By cutting through this street, drivers avoid a stop sign where traffic always backs up. Instead of getting stuck, drivers who know about this can fly through a quiet neighborhood street.

The only problem with this little detour? It is a highly residential street that is also packed with children - but that never seems to cross anyone’s mind. While driving down this street, one can notice a series of signs on people's front yards, "Please tell the town of [town name], we need stop signs here." It was easy to read the subtext, "Please stop cutting down our street and endangering our children."

While the determination and concern of the neighborhood’s residents is admirable, it poses the thought - There's got to be a better way.

As much as the employee suggestion system is broken in the modern workplace, the same can be said for towns and local government. Both systems have not caught up with digital innovation and still follow the old inefficient methods of communication.

Making Change in Government - The Old Way

Consider the options available to residents to get a stop sign installed on their street. Homeowners, like the ones in our town, can buy printed yard signs at their own expense, put them in their front yards and, well, hope for the best. Alternatively, they can call town administrators and plead their case. Good luck. Towns loathe to spend money recklessly according to the pleas of a few scattered townies phoning in.

Residents also have the option of writing a letter to the local newspaper. A well-written letter can possibly spark people to act on a larger scale and organize around good ideas. The major problem with this? The local newspaper is in a state of terminal decline and appears to be as much a relic of the previous era as the wooden suggestion box.
    
In all cases, these communications channels are full of holes. It's all too easy for a letter to get lost, a message missed, a phone call not returned. Because communication is scattered and messages easily lost, getting things done is mostly a matter of citizens getting the ear of a powerful person.

In defense of local government, they are doing the best they can with the limited set of resources they have. The problem is in prioritization. Who determines what messages are worth listening to and which can (and should) be discarded? Local government must be mindful to ignore the cranks but heed the wise.

It is tough work coordinating change that will have meaningful impact on people's lives and often town administrators, despite the best of intentions, can be frustrated by weaknesses in the system.

Government Goes Digital and Gets Responsive

That was then and this is now. Our modern era has seen a surge in digital communication channels. Digital communication, in contrast to the older way, is recorded and more efficiently communicated. While this technology exists now, there is a bit of an adoption lag in both private and public institutions.

Consider for a moment the concept of a digital suggestion system for town government. Instead of putting signs or writing a letter asking for a stop sign, residents would log in to the town website and register their proposal directly with town administrators on a suggestion board. On the same board, residents could view other people's suggestions and "like" them. As in most social media sites, the better suggestions would then rise to the top.

At the same time that residents would be able to submit their ideas and view others, town administrators would be able respond to and track good suggestions and politely explain to ineffective solutions why the plan would not work. In this system, nothing would be lost and people would get the answers they seek. There would be no missed communication. The mayor could log in at any time and say "What is the status of this idea?"

Everyone wins in this situation. Citizens are heard, good suggestions get put in place, and town administrators are given the tools to do their job. It's hard to argue against this idea and time to make it a reality.

Do you think your town or local legislation could benefit from a tool like this? If you are interested in making your town more streamlined, and your residents happier, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 888-919-5300, 9 am - 6 pm EST.

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