Many government managers believe citizen engagement is important to ensure the success of their agency, yet only a fraction of them attest that their constituents are deeply engaged.

This was one of the findings of a recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled, The Engaged Constituent: Meeting the challenge of engagement in the public sector. The survey probed 376 government and public sector executives from different parts of the world, including those from national, regional and local governments.

According to the EIU report, sponsored by Adobe Systems Inc., 54 per cent of the respondents believe that constituent engagement is crucial to the fulfillment of their agency’s mission. In reality, however, only 25 per cent of them think that their agency is deeply engaged with the constituents.

The report noted that public sector agencies worldwide are seeing advances in information technology as a vehicle for getting closer to the constituents.

“Although government has been slower to take advantage of these opportunities, public sector agency executives globally are starting to see that advances in IT present a unique opportunity to create closer bonds with their constituents and engage them in ways similar to those practices employed by the private sector,” wrote Bennett Voyles, who authored the EIU report.

Unlike the private sector, however, government managers’ believe citizen engagement will lead to better transparency and accountability, faster processing times and increased service uptake, the report said.

When asked what barriers were preventing them from attaining greater engagement with the citizenry, 50 per cent of government managers surveyed cited the difficulty in measuring engagement, followed by lack of financial resources with 47 per cent.

Despite these barriers, however, many government agencies are either already implementing or are planning to implement over the next five years technological solutions to increase engagement, the report noted.

For instance, 77 per cent are already providing information online and through print media, while 53 per cent are regularly gathering constituent feedback through surveys and other interactive venues.

“In five years, a total of 41 per cent plan to improve their data tracking capabilities, while 39 per cent intend to integrate various services for ease-of-use and a more consistent experience for the constituents,” Voyles said.

In a statement, Service New Brunswick president Mike McKendy said there are many benefits to be gained from adapting to the changing needs and expectations of citizens.

“On one hand, improved service levels result in more satisfied users, allowing us to better deliver on our mandate. At the same time, by leveraging technology to deliver more engaging experiences and reusing that technology across numerous services and applications, we can expect huge gains in cost savings and internal efficiency,” he said.

The province of British Columbia is another jurisdiction that’s actively engaging its citizens. At this year’s GTEC conference in Ottawa, Lois Fraser, assistant deputy minister for Service B.C., outlined her agency’s initiatives towards a citizen-centred service transformation which includes a system wherein communities are able to collaborate and collectively design ways to improve service delivery.

The EIU report provided some recommendations for government managers to overcome barriers to constituent engagement. One of the suggestions was to learn more about the technology to be used for engagement initiatives, both its potentials and its limits.

Government executives should also develop metrics that will help them evaluate the success of engagement initiatives.

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