Four Key Ingredients to Enhancing Citizen Relationship
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Four Key Ingredients to Enhancing Citizen Relationship

By Jim Flick, Economic Development Director & Public Information Officer, Deerfield Township

Jim Flick, Economic Development Director & Public Information Officer, Deerfield Township

As a public official, I believe there are four key ingredients for enhancing Citizen Relationship: data, transparency, culture and inclusion. Each are important for establishing a trusting healthy relationship between local government and the people it serves.

Data

Data is essential to making policies, growing the economy, and strategic planning. In today’s world, there are endless amounts of information that need to be considered to make informed decisions and have the greatest impact on our communities.

More than ever, government IT infrastructures have allowed public entities to capture various types of data. This ranges from GPS on public safety and public works vehicles, to parking garages and meters, psychographic information, demographics, economic development incentives, public health information, crime statistics, and more.

It is essential that analysts and administrators are able to distill this information and make recommendations, based on the data, to legislators so the policies made reflect the wants and needs of the community.

Additionally, the plethora of data lays the groundwork for smart city initiatives and public-private partnerships that can bring maximum efficiency and effectiveness of programs and policies.

Transparency

The second key ingredient is transparency. Public entities are tasked with addressing public problems. It is the primary function of government. Community members are both the consumers of government services and the investors in government through their tax dollars. Therefore, public administrators have a duty to be upfront and open about processes. This helps residents understand how their money is being used to enrich or enhance the community’s quality of life. The more information that can be made available, the better. It shows a willingness to be upfront and open about government activities thus creating trust between the residents and the government officials.

Transparency is also the next logical step after data because open data systems are an important tool to bring about additional transparency.

The phrase “open data” means a lot of different things to different communities based on available resources; however, if there is data that is being collected that could inform decision making and would be valuable to share to the public, then it should.

In the community I work in, we have limited resources at the moment. Therefore, open data involves the sharing of demographic data, updating procurement opportunities and the statuses of Requests for Information/Proposals, and major economic development projects. However, some communities go as far as to share things like live snow plow tracking, recycling, crime data, and other information that showcases what activities the government is engaged in and the impact that it is having on the citizenry. All of these things are important to understand because of the impact on daily life and they are tools that could help attract new residents or businesses to an area.

Culture

The third key ingredient is culture. Public administrators need to promote a culture in government where they lead with solutions and eliminate barriers.

Data collection, and developing smart city initiatives with that data, means relying more heavily on technology. This technology is driving communities forward at a faster and faster pace. It is vital that we lead with solutions and eliminate barriers that slow down processes.

"It must be a concerted effort on the part of government officials to reach out to collect the data, share the data, lead with solutions, and reach out to all members of the community for guidance"

Additionally, to build a better citizen relationship, we must be agile and flexible, welcoming change and adapting to it. Our communities are growing and changing. Millennials and members Generation X want different things than the Baby Boomer generation. We need to reshape our communities to fit these wants and allow citizens to age in place.

Additionally, the nature of business and the workforce is evolving. More people are working from home or from co-working spaces, ecommerce has forever changed retail and warehousing, manufacturing is getting more sophisticated, etc. Governments need to understand business trends, market forces, and adapt policies, reshape infrastructure, and workforce development strategies to meet the new needs of business.

As a public-sector official, I do understand that certain processes must be adhered to. However, being able to navigate those processes with more efficiency enhances the ability to keep pace with changes in the community demographics and business environment.

Inclusion

The last key ingredient is inclusion. In the private sector, it is easier to be a disruptor than it is in the public sector. As a public-sector administrator, it is vital to have the support of the elected officials since they ultimately approve or disapprove of projects and programs. However, in the end, we are ultimately accountable to the public and our business communities. We must have their support if we are going to be successful in facilitating development and change. As we work with our communities, it is important to emphasize that inclusion is a key part of the equation. We firmly believe that policies must be reflective of and eliminate the barriers to all the member of our communities.

The best way to ensure inclusion is through public engagement activities.

To use a specific example, my township is currently undergoing a substantial strategic planning effort comprised of an Economic Development Plan, Parks Master Plan, and Comprehensive Plan update. In order for these plans to have the maximum benefit to the community, we need input from as many people as possible. This fostering of the democratic process means we hear more voices and opinions, which we can use to help shape a future that will be designed in their image without leaving anyone out.

The four key ingredients to enhancing citizen relationship that I have pointed out (data, transparency, culture, and inclusion) all work hand in hand. It must be a concerted effort on the part of government officials to reach out to collect the data, share the data, lead with solutions, and reach out to all members of the community for guidance. All of this will increase trust and ensure that the policies being made have the maximum impact possible while also being flexible and open to the evolutions and changes ahead.

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