Civic engagement is a term that’s been central to local governments’ resident services and civic operations for decades. As a result, local leaders have designed and executed programs and initiatives to encourage civic participation and the voluntary utilization of available revenue-generating services. The response to such programs has been positive and impactful for many communities, with residents being active voters, volunteers, and neighbors.
While resident engagement is vital to a community’s success, there is yet another, even more crucial component of a foundationally strong and vibrant community. With focus, it is an area that can be even more impactful in generating self-sustaining communities that are financially sound. The key is to place emphasis not just on resident engagement but on civic experiences.
What are Civic Experiences?
Civic experiences are interactions between local governments and residents. These interactions are many and varied. For example, residents get permits, attend municipal meetings, participate in recreational programs, book facilities, make payments, and conduct other such actions every day. To meet these needs, local government staff members process requests, administer programs, provide public safety, and conduct operational business that keeps the municipality running smoothly.
These interactions represent the moments when residents experience their government. And the experience can be positive or negative, with lasting impact. Governments that optimize civic experiences:
- Gain appreciation for getting things done
- Drive more revenue
- Operate more efficiently with happier staff members
- Increase awareness for their community as a desirable place to live, work, play and conduct business
Resident Engagement as Only a Piece of the Greater Civic Experience
Resident engagement is vital to fostering awareness and participation in local civic initiatives. After all, residents won’t vote to increase the public works budget or weigh in on the future of the aging highway infrastructure if they don’t know such decisions need to be made and how they will affect them. The process of sharing information and inviting participation represent moments of engagement.
However, resident engagement, which describes residents coming together to participate in community-building opportunities, is different from civic experience, which is the interactions residents have with their government. Civic experience represents the totality of every interaction that a community member has with their local government. More than just moments where someone acknowledges that they are participating in civic activities, such as voting or volunteering, civic experiences involve everything from driving down a paved road to adopting a cat at a pet shelter to buying a ticket for the annual Halloween festival.
To be financially profitable, sustainable, and desirable places to live, work, and visit, local governments need to do more than invite engagement. They need to have the infrastructure, staff, facilities, and opportunities in place to ensure that every moment of interaction with a resident is so frictionless, simplified, and personalized that it encourages repeat participation.
For example, the young couple looking to buy a home with a fenced-in backyard for their growing family might become so frustrated researching fence ordinances and understanding the permitting process that they invest in a home in the next town over with whose administration is easier to work. Similarly, if obtaining a pet registration requires printing a form, filling it out, putting it in an envelope with a stamp, and mailing it back to town hall, the resident who is accustomed to doing business solely online will likely skip the registration process—and the town will lose the potential revenue.
When conducting business with a local government is burdensome, frustrating, or unclear, residents will simply find alternative ways to live, work, and play, to each’s mutual detriment. In this way, fostering positive civic experiences is crucial to creating the type of community where residents want to live and people want to work.
Local government administrations that have mastered engagement are ready to take their community service strategy to the next level by creating positive civic experiences at every resident touchpoint. From online chatbots to online utilities, and from searchable websites to a variety of channels to request community repairs, every interaction with a resident is an opportunity to foster the types of relationships that keep residents engaging, participating, and choosing to make your community home year after year.
To learn more about the difference between resident engagement and civic experience, watch this on-demand webinar hosted by our media partner, American Cities and Counties.