Mobile devices are more widespread than ever, with 77% of Americans owning a smartphone, and 53% owning a tablet, according to the Pew Research Center. With mobile apps becoming increasingly complex, and better able at engaging users, government institutions are starting to take notice. As with business apps, institutional apps can serve a wide variety of purposes, achieving both internal and external objectives. From improving inter-department communication to storing documents in a central location, an app can help improve the internal processes of an institution. But, apps truly shine when interfacing with the public.
Government data is always available to the public
With an app, the government office is able to publish a wide variety of information such as contracts, salaries, budgets, real-time bus information, 311 requests, restaurant inspection results and other raw data sets. Based on this data, the public is able to give input and voice their opinion in a way that is much more efficient than a public meeting. After all, a public meeting can only house so many people for a limited period of time. An app is open to the public 24/7.
Automating citizen requests
Besides giving feedback on the data, the app can be fitted with a ticket system that allows citizens to report problems in real time. Issues such as report code enforcement difficulties, broken streetlights, vandalized/damaged public property and others can all be reported when discovered. Automation can be further developed, where enough tickets on a particular issue trigger a work order with the appropriate department. Apps in this style have been developed and deployed successfully, leading to thousands of submitted and resolved requests.
Apps can also be used to improve public safety. In coordination with a hospital or fire department, the app can notify regular citizens of an emergency within their immediate vicinity. For example, if someone is having a cardiac arrest in the area, the app can notify all CPR-trained citizens within reach. Given that a person suffering from cardiac arrest has to receive medical attention within 6 minutes, this feature can save lives. It can also work with the fire department, where alerts are sent to citizens who can provide immediate assistance in situations where bystander help is appropriate.
Expert civic engagement
The app can open the doors to new avenues of civic engagement through programs that allow citizens to participate in the improvement of government operations. This type of collaboration is often referred to as civic hacking, and it can be approached in a variety of ways. However, it all starts with letting citizens know that a local challenge requires participation. These programs can be voluntary or paid, and while the practice is still new, the inaugural National Day of Civic Hacking saw 11,000 participants in 83 cities. Many government officials see civic hacking as a great avenue for growth and as a way to engage expert citizens civically.