Transitioning From In-Person to Digital with Virtual Services

April 20, 2020

A leading reason local and state governments have been hit so hard by office closures forced by COVID-19 is because government work tends to have a lot of manual processes. Governments that have gone “more digital” have been better prepared for this pandemic and for future catastrophic events.

To follow up on our most recent blog post that covers tips and tools for employees to learn when making the switch to remote work, here the focus shifts to ways local governments can move more of their processes online.

Don’t Wait to Digitize

As discussed in the last NextRequest blog post, health crises aren’t the only reason for a technological transition. The majority of us were caught off-guard by this pandemic, but we have the opportunity now to put measures in place to help with government business continuity within the existing crisis and prepare ourselves for future emergencies. 

Digitizing processes gives employees the flexibility to work anytime and anywhere with an internet connection, the ability to work jointly with associates regardless of geography, saves time and money by the removal of a commute, take-out lunch at the office, etc. 

Here are a few areas that governments can kick off their own digital transformation. 


Forms

Forms are used widely by governments to collect information and it’s one of the easiest ways to provide digital services to the public. Digital forms save citizens and government employees thousands of hours a year, reduce costs, and improve the speed of service delivery.

Forms solutions come in a wide variety of options. On the free and cheap side you have Google Forms which can be used with any Google email account. Then you have the moderately priced solutions that offer a modern experience like TypeForm and JotForm. These solutions work if the form isn’t asking for any PII, or personally identifiable information. If the form is collecting sensitive personal information a FedRamp certified form provider like Adobe would be the best solution. The downside is that they tend to be pretty pricey. 

Real World Example: Here at NextRequest we use a variety of form solutions depending on the need. For internal questionnaires we use Google Forms or a company called Airtable. For external forms we use a contact form collector built into our website hosting company or we’ll send out a Google Form to our customers. 


Meetings

Social distancing has put an end to in-person town halls. Thankfully there’s a plethora of companies serving the virtual town hall space, from companies solely dedicated to town halls like Bang the Table to larger companies who have government divisions like Blue Jeans and Zoho.  

Cities should consider broadcasting meetings live using a variety of platforms, such as cable television, YouTube, social media, and telephone. The goal is to provide as any options as possible for public comments, such as allowing comments in writing, recording, or live phone comment. A variety of broadcasting and comment options means a constituent without internet or who cannot travel can still participate. 

Real World Example 1: The City of Kenmore, Washington recently convened a task force via Zoom and showed the proceedings live on the city’s YouTube channel. Kenmore plans to hold future public meetings and even city staff meetings using Zoom. 

Real World Example 2: The City of Bloomington, Indiana televises its council meetings and is encouraging members of the public to submit comments by email. The City of Glendale, Arizona has shifted its council meetings to optionally teleconference and is now allowing residents to comment via email and voicemail.


Public Records Requests

This one is a little more specific as well as one that we know quite a bit about. The sheer number of mediums that have been added as public records (emails, texts, even body-cams) in the last 2 decades has made managing requests more and more difficult. Spreadsheets and calendar reminders won’t cut it.

In the last 3 years we’ve seen a significant increase in state laws that are tightening the belt on records requests management, from decreasing time frames to instituting fines for non-compliance. 

Real World Example: One of our earliest customers was the City of Oakland. In the last 5 years The City has made a significant push to digitize and automate a lot of their processes, including their public records management. By digitization the City of Oakland can now access records requests in any web browser, their teams can collaborate remotely and asynchronously, and they can even proactively publish information and deflect common inquiries to information they’ve already published. All of this is made possible by implementing user-friendly digital services that benefits both the public and the government body. 

Updating existing business processes can be a real struggle. Even organizations that are well down the digital transformation path face tough ongoing hurdles, like budgeting, talent struggles, and most importantly culture change. For every manual process out there there's at least one expert solution that can free up valuable time and resources. undefined