EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Feb. 1, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Results of the third annual "What's Next in Digital Communications for Local Government" survey, released today by the government website and software experts at Vision, reveal that local government leaders continue to strive to increase digital interaction with citizens. Key areas of focus for 2017 include online citizen engagement, website accessibility and mobile-ready design.
"Over the three years of "What's Next" surveys, the shift from an internal staff focus to one centered on the citizen experience has been dramatic," said Ashley Fruechting, Vision's senior director of marketing. "It's clear that local government leaders recognize their responsibility to provide citizens with digital services at the same level of accessibility, transparency and efficiency they enjoy in the private sector."
More than 435 municipal and county government officials, serving communities with populations of less than 1,000 to more than 1.5 million, participated in the December 2016 online survey, which assessed the current state of digital communications and projected future trends. For the first time, elected and appointed local government officials and administrators represented the largest group of survey respondents. Increased participation by this group - nearly double from last year (to 34% from 18%) - points to the growing importance of citizen communications. A copy of the survey report and infographic now are available for download here.
Insight 1: Recognizing the Responsibility to Keep Pace with Technology
Echoing survey results from the prior two years, an overwhelming majority (97%) of government leaders said they believe that local governments have a responsibility to keep pace with ever-changing technology. The positive response to this forward-looking survey question continued to track upward from 95 percent in the 2016 report and 94 percent in 2015.
"As technology evolves, so does communications. We have to keep pace with the changing environment or the message gets lost," said a county council member from Alberta, Canada.
Insight 2: Increased Focus on Digital Citizen Engagement
As the need for local government to engage its citizens continues to rise, only 5 percent of survey respondents rated their agencies "outstanding" in effective citizen engagement, while 18 percent said their agencies were "below average" or "poor."
"As local government, our duty is to serve the public; and part of the equation to engaging the public is through new technology," said a city administrator from Texas.
Insight 3: Local Gov Websites are Essential
For the third straight year, the majority of local government participants described their agency website as "integral to their overall communications and public service strategy," with 93 percent responding that it was either "essential" or "important." However, the number of respondents who rated their agency's website as "highly effective" showed a notable drop – to 26 percent in 2017 from 34 percent in both 2015 and 2016. Budgetary issues surfaced in a number of write-in comments.
"We try our best to keep citizens aware, making information available, yet it all still takes some staff time and energy for all of these issues. Many smaller governments cannot afford to invest what is required," said a county commissioner from Minnesota.
The good news is nearly three-quarters (73%) of this year's respondents predict they will be highly effective in 5 years.
Insight 4: Increasing Demand for Online Citizen Service
A widespread challenge is still evident as participants rated how well their websites allow visitors to conduct business online. While only 8 percent gave their website an "outstanding" rating, it is double the number in the 2016 survey. At the other end of the spectrum, 16 percent of respondents said their website was "below average" or "poor," while just over three-quarters (76%) said their website was "average" or "good" in delivering online services.
When asked to cite the top issue with their current websites, respondents cited (1) limited citizen engagement, (2) not mobile-ready and (3) difficult to navigate.
This correlates with responses to the question about priorities for the next 12 months, in which three out of four local gov leaders (75%) cited "expand citizen engagement" as an important focus. Rounding out the top three priorities for 2017 were mobile integration/responsive design (59%) and minimize cybersecurity risks (47%).
"Security is a huge concern, and I'd rank that first. Open-source software doesn't cut it anymore. We might as well have a huge target on our foreheads. If we do not keep up with the rapid pace of updates, we become vulnerable. Proprietary software will vastly improve our security profile," said a communications manager from Washington State.
Insight 5: Websites Expected to Leapfrog Social Media in Effectiveness
A dynamic shift is predicted over the next 5 years in the effectiveness of an agency's channels of citizen communications. Currently, social media was ranked as a "highly effective" communications channel by 43 percent of respondents, while only 26 percent ranked their agency website as highly effective. But by 2021, 73 percent of respondents predict that their websites will be highly effective compared to 70 percent for social media channels.
Insight 6: Accessibility Mandates Challenge Local Leaders
Federal mandates calling for the removal of barriers that prevent interaction with or access to websites by people with disabilities are a growing concern for local government agencies. New rules on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website compliance will be issued in 2018 and existing guidelines such as ADA, WCAG 2.0 and Section 508, are increasingly being enforced. Yet 87 percent of respondents (only a 2 percent improvement over last year) said they have moderate, weak or no knowledge of Federal web accessibility requirements.
"Too many departments, too much information to have to make easily accessible." – Senior Advisor-Policy & Communications, Utah
"Overall, this year's survey reveals that many local government leaders continue to grapple with internal and external challenges that prevent them from being as effective and transparent as today's technology allows," Fruechting said. "Today's citizens demand to be heard. Thankfully, the opportunities to increase satisfaction, build trust and foster engagement on the local level are greater than ever. The good news from this year's survey is that local government leaders are increasingly aware of the tools and technologies that exist to help them meet those needs."
For more information about Vision's transformative technology, or to request a free website review and consultation, please call 888-263-8847 or visit info.visioninternet.com/free-consultation.
Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., Vision is a national leader in government website design, development and hosting with more than 700 government, non-profit and education clients in U.S. and Canadian communities with populations that range from less than 1,000 residents to more than 5 million. For more than 20 years, Vision has created cost-effective solutions that increase government efficiency, build transparency and promote interactive communications with citizens. The company's powerful, easy-to-use subscription-based content management system, visionLive™, keeps local government websites relev ant and effective; and the new visionPulse™ community engagement platform enables local governments to gather feedback on important issues. For the second year in a row, Vision has been named to Government Technology magazine's GovTech 100, a listing of leading companies developing innovative or disruptive offerings to improve or transform government. The company also was named a top 10 company serving local government by Engaging Local Government Leaders in its 2016 ELGL Choice Awards.