Deploying new solutions and services to better support constituent needs remains a difficult task in government today, but strategic project management and communications can make all the difference. With the help of modern GovTech partners, leading local governments are tackling these challenges because they recognize the operational and fiscal benefits to both employees and community members.
21st century technologies have brought customer service standards to unprecedented levels. With the advent of services like one-click ordering and instant customer support, modern consumers have come to expect an efficient, user-friendly shopping experience.
Just a few months ago, my team and I were introduced to Kirsten Wyatt, Executive Director of ELGL. After a few emails back and forth, we knew the ELGL community was one ViewPoint had to be a part of. In no time, we found ourselves sharing content with each others’ subscribers and even planning a joint podcast featuring Dan Ralley of Upper Arlington, OH (another conference attendee!) on Customer Service & ePermitting.
Last month we sat down with Riverside, California’s Chief Innovation Officer Lea Deesing and Director of Community & Economic Development Rafael Guzman to talk about their strides in customer-facing technology. With an innovative ‘ecosystem’ of online services, Riverside, CA is a nationwide leader in providing customer-centric tools and platforms for their residents and visitors. Having spent many years working in smaller communities, Deesing and Guzman also share their insights for improving customer service and technological innovation without breaking the bank.
We live in an age of customer service. From your local grocery store to e-commerce giants like Zappos, today’s businesses are acutely concentrated on the ease and personalization of their customers’ experiences.
Having long been the norm in the private sector, this emphasis on customer-centric service is quickly becoming the new standard for local governments.
Social media has long been an integral part of daily life. We have never been so easily connected as now, and the benefits span far beyond seeing your friends’ Christmas photos and not-so-funny memes. From marketing, to journalism, to fundraising, social media has revolutionized professional industries.
For local governments, it can hold even greater prizes. Social media is part of a foundation for a new type of democracy and community participation.
Technology is driving major changes in building departments, introducing a whole new way to build our world. Two technologies in particular–cloud-based platforms for storing and sharing data and building information modeling (BIM)–promise to change not only the way construction projects are designed, but also the processes of building officials responsible for approving them. As a result of changing technologies, building officials will soon need to become more tech-savvy in order to take full advantage of the benefits that these new technologies bring.
For the third installment of our Year of the Citizen webinar series, we sat down with National Research Center Founder & CEO Thomas Miller. Having worked in and with local governments for over 35 years, and co-authored two books on the topic, Miller is a citizen survey expert. In this webinar he shares insights into designing and conducting surveys, as well as how to use data to catalyze actionable change in local governments.
In 2015 and 2017, the planning magazine Planetizenreleased reports overviewing the results of surveys benchmarking “the use of technology in city planning departments across the United States.” The data is meant help municipalities gauge the nationwide trends of their peers and plan for how new technology will affect planning departments in the upcoming years. This infographic highlights some of the major findings in the 2017 report (based on a 2016 survey) and how they compare to the 2015 report (based on a 2014 survey). See below for the full reports and more about the authors.
The first of our Year of the Citizen webinars, Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole and New Urban Mechanics Co-founder Nigel Jacob joined us for a conversation about how to approach “customer service” in 21st century local government. Drawing on their personal experiences in the civic tech hubs Santa Monica and Boston, Cole and Jacob share their practical philosophies for how to bring innovative, customer-centric technology to local government—even those with few resources to spare. Touching on several audience questions, they also share practical strategies for viewers to start implementing in their own communities today.
With the near universal presence of Airbnb, there’s no denying that short-term rentals have cemented their place in modern life. For some, hosting has become a necessary second source of income. For others, short-term rentals present a form of cultural currency for meeting new people or exploring a city. However, they also represent a modern regulatory challenge for local governments—how to regulate globalized, tech-based markets within their own jurisdictions.
We know that saving resources by making smart, long-term investments is a top priority for local governments. With the widespread availability of modern, cloud-based software, local governments are starting to find that they can get more out of their technology and provide better services while spending less.
Despite the contemporary erosion of facts, it’s impossible to run large organizations – private or public – without credible observations about what’s happening and, separately, what’s working. Performance measurement helps with both and can be as deliberate as Baldridge Key Performance Indicators or as impromptu as “How’m I doing?” made famous by once-Mayor Ed Koch’s ad hoc surveys of random New Yorkers. Metrics of success, like compass readings, keep the ships of state on course and because the enterprise is public, make the captain and crew accountable.
Leah and Brady were recent college graduates looking to live close to their families in Seattle without paying exorbitant rental prices. Calling on the craftsmanship of Leah’s father, the couple experimented with living in a tiny house and found it suited their lifestyle. Initially living on their parents’ properties in Seattle, they saved over $1,400 a month on rent. Now situated in the San Juan Islands, the couple feels they have more financial freedom to pursue their businesses and personal goals.
In 2013, Julia Gould took a summer internship with LAANE, a Los Angeles-based organization that advocates for workers’ rights. There she met Jeannine Pearce, a community organizer and former LAANE intern herself. Jeannine saw great potential in Julia, describing her as someone “who exemplified her passion and willingness to go above and beyond.”
Jeannine mentored Julia during her three months with LAANE, teaching her core fundamentals about community organizing and local government. But it was clear they were both learning from each other, and their relationship deepened through their work together. “It was really inspiring to get to work with her, because she always pushed as far as she could, she pushed us to have high standards,” says Jeannine.
They parted ways for a few years, but stayed in touch and remained friends. Flash forward to 2017, and Jeannine is now a Long Beach City Councilmember with Julia as her Legislative Deputy.
Julia and Jeannine’s relationship embodies the fluid, multi-dimensional mentoring models that have become popular with the rise of the Millennial workforce. It also shows the power of public sector mentorship to instill passion, pass on institutional knowledge, and bring new voices to the table.
Mentoring Models: New and Old
Research has long confirmed the tangible benefits of mentoring. Mentorship helps individuals develop feelings of self-determination and competence, which translate into higher career satisfaction. Organizations also see benefits like reduced turnover, improved networks, increased diversity, and identification of future leaders.
The way we think about professional mentorship has rapidly expanded in the past several years. For decades, academia saw mentoring as experienced managers helping younger employees advance through career stages.
Now, seniority and formality are making way for new kinds of mentoring models. “Reverse mentoring”, for example, is when younger people mentor their elders, often around technology or social media. Social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter have helped give rise to “micro mentoring,” the idea that you can receive mentorship from many different people without long-standing relationships.
These, among many other new models, are translating a traditional form of teaching and connecting to new generations and modern workplaces.
For Jeannine and Julia, a non-hierarchical, friendship-based approach was a natural way to build their relationship.
“Successful mentoring relationships are built on trust,” says Jeannine. “It’s not me being a director to you. It’s asking each other’s opinions, learning together, and having a little bit of friend time.”
They also both share an openness toward connecting with new people. “I think people get caught up in the idea that I need to have one mentor, ‘my guardian angel’, but people can be mentors in so many small ways,” says Julia, “Don’t be afraid to just ask someone new for coffee and listen to their life story.”
Viewing mentorship in such a fluid way has allowed them to meet new mentors and maintain existing relationships without it becoming a stressful undertaking.
“Don’t think of mentorship as another thing you have to do. You do have time for mentorship, and mentors often benefit just as much as mentees,” says Jeannine. “Mentorship is both fulfilling and an important part of self-care. You step out of the stress and demands of normal life and take time to build relationships.”
New Mentorship Models in the Public Sector
Adopting new attitudes towards mentorship is particularly important for the public sector. Facing the rapid retirement of baby boomers, governments need to grow with the millennial workforce, and mentorship is key.
According to The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 63% of Millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed, and those intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%), than not (32%).
Through her experiences working with Jeannine, Julia has tangibly seen the development of her own skills. “Jeannine made sure that I learned the basics around community organizing, but once I did something a couple of times with her, she let me go off and try things on my own,” says Julia. “It’s scary to have that responsibility, but it’s also incredibly empowering. It told me that she respected and trusted me enough to help them in tangible ways.”
Mentorship also increases diversity in the public sector, helping bring new faces to the table. In their current roles in Long Beach’s city government, Julia and Jeannine rely on each other to maintain their confidence while working in a traditionally male-dominated arena.
“Seeing people like Jeannine be successful and push the envelope is incredibly important for me to understand my own power in the room,” says Julia.
Mentorship researchers Barry Bozeman and Mary Feeny see this increased diversity as specifically important to the public sector’s commitment to representing a diverse population. Unlike the private sector, government agencies are also much more interconnected, meaning the benefits of mentorship get reinvested back into the system.
As Jeannine’s Legislative Deputy, Julia is now mentoring other staff members who are new to local government. “I know trying new things can be intimidating for them,” says Julia. “But I just say go for it, try it out, we can talk about it together. That mentality came from Jeannine and others at LAANE, because they empowered me to try new things.”
Moving Beyond the Career Ladder
At its core, mentoring is simple. People come together to provide constructive support and learn from each other. But the modern evolution of mentorship across all sectors teaches us that the potential benefits go beyond moving “up a ladder.” The best kind of mentoring uncovers passions and encourages service.
New mentoring models also remind us that these relationships will come in all manner of forms, but the end result is the inspiration that comes from human connection.
“My work with Jeannine has instilled a lifelong passion for advocacy and community organizing,” says Julia. “Wherever I end up going, that love will be formative to my work.”