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# Civic Experience Platform

Local Governments Leveraging Tech to Increase Efficiency, Accessibility, and Transparency

Authored by Civic Plus Logo


November 6, 2023
5 minutes

Ben Sebree, CivicPlus® Senior Vice President of Research & Development, appeared as a guest on the SaaS Scaled Podcast, hosted by Arman Eshraghi, CEO and Founder of Qrvey, provider of embedded analytics for SaaS applications. Ben and Arman discussed digital initiatives local governments can undertake to benefit residents, how these governments can increase resident trust, and more.

You can watch or listen to the podcast here, and we’ve highlighted some of Ben’s insights below.

How Can Local Governments Use Technologies to Be More Efficient?

Shifts in the adoption of technology are helping out local governments in a few different ways. One of them is accessibility to information and scalability. As municipalities get larger, they have to serve more and more services online. Leveraging cloud technologies really empowers you to be able to deliver 24/7 access and support large loads of visitors to your sites. For example – maybe you’re hosting a big event, and a lot of people are trying to sign up. The ability of the cloud to scale really well is a huge benefit to municipalities that we haven’t seen in the past.

It’s also important from a security standpoint. It allows you to take advantage of the large R&D dollars of those hosting providers to make sure you have secure infrastructure, and good training for your employees.

It’s also an incredibly exciting time right now when it comes to generative AI. We’re just seeing the technology change leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks, not even months or years, and we could probably count the days between the next big innovation coming out. We can achieve a lot of really nice efficiencies leveraging technologies like generative AI, and it holds a lot of benefits for our customers and the industry in general by changing us from creators, where we have to create 100% of the content ourselves, to curators.

Creating an Accessible Local Government for All

When we talk about accessibility, most think about ADA and empowering users with disabilities, which is a hugely important part of what the industry needs to focus on when it comes to empowering their users.  We also want to not ignore other forms of accessibility; with front-end users, who are the residents of different municipalities, we see a majority of traffic coming from mobile devices. So, when we’re building applications and resident-facing user interfaces, we ensure they’re mobile responsive, so users can have a positive experience interacting with their local government, leveraging our technology to do that.

It also becomes about accessibility — empowering folks of all socioeconomic statuses to have access to information. Municipalities tell us some families might have one smartphone as their only access to the internet – so, if we don’t build software and solutions that empower them to have access to information, we’re leaving out a large portion of residents.

Making Use of Data to Serve Communities

We see a lot of different trends within our market. We’re hearing of really interesting cloud adoption and generative models and other technologies municipalities are leveraging to serve their residents and address problems like vandalism. One customer runs “Operation Clean Suite,” which includes projects like weeding people’s yards and replacing batteries in smoke detectors. They leverage a lot of the data that they see, and they’re looking at both hot and cold spots in the data because no calls in a certain area might mean something needs to be fixed, or maybe they just need to educate people on the services that are available.

From a data perspective, there are a lot of different silos of information throughout every customer we have. We have a lot of different styles of information within our own organization as well, and there are innovative technologies that let you take structured and unstructured information and create insights based on it. Generative AI is a fantastic tool that can figure out intent and then pull back something that’s coherent.

What are the Challenges of Using AI Responsibly and Ensuring It’s Helpful?

Especially working in government, you want to do everything you can to build trust with residents. So having good ethical practices and policies in place for how you leverage AI within local government, or how your vendors are leveraging AI, is incredibly important. Data privacy and security risks are huge, though – so encrypting data that holds sensitive information, like using synthetic data or anonymizing some of the sensitive information you have before it goes into those models, would really help.

However, there are bias and discrimination risks that come with training data as well, where you want to ensure that you understand all of the data you have. Does it reflect your morals and ethics? And if it doesn’t, you might need to take a look at the data and figure out where there might be bias from anything historical that may have happened. From there, over/ under sampling data specifically to counteract the potential bias that could be in the training data, or having an algorithm that can search and potentially flag things that might be biased or potential ethical issues within the data itself, will help to mitigate these risks.

Finally, it’s important to be able to transparently explain how the AI model is being leveraged and what is happening behind the scenes.

What Digital Infrastructure Improvements Have You Seen Local Governments Making?

We’ve seen local governments do some exciting integrations of CivicPlus products around different smart city initiatives. A great example is using flood sensors to integrate directly with our 311 CRM application, SeeClickFix, which will automatically create a work ticket if a flood sensor gets tripped for somebody to proactively go out.

Additionally, some municipalities are achieving great efficiencies by leveraging AI chatbots. We’ve seen municipalities be able to cut operational costs by about 30% by leveraging a chatbot, which can answer about 80% of the routine questions coming in, reducing the burden on already busy teams.

What Initiatives Should Cities Focus on to Become More Digital and Automated?

There are so many different ways to focus on becoming more digital and automated, and cybersecurity is probably number one. It’s always an arms race to ensure you’re staying one step ahead of people who want to spread misinformation or break trust within local governments.

Bringing accessibility to folks is also a priority, whether it’s through ADA or through different devices and interaction points. Some people want to walk in and have an in-person interaction, and some never want to get up off their couch. So, we need to be able to allow residents to engage and get efficient access to information in the way they want to engage with their local municipalities. That will really help build more trust within governments and their communities.

We’ve seen some data through surveys we’ve done and information from other vendors we’ve worked with, showing that the more digital services municipalities supply to their residents, the higher the trust is. Having more ways of interacting with your government in the way the residents want to and access to information really helps to build a lot of that trust.

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