Online communication between municipalities and citizens not yet up to scratch

21 March 2018

Municipalities and other government bodies who want to use social media to interactively communicate and collaborate with citizens are struggling with a range of problems that are mostly not technical in nature. This came to light during a study by Reinout Kleinhans and Enzo Falco (Delft University of Technology). They wrote a policy letter on the subject that the bodies concerned can use to overcome the challenges. The research was realised with funding from the NWO programme VerDuS Smart Urban Regions of the Future - ENSCC Era-NET Cofund Smart Cities and Communities.

Enzo Falco and Reinout Kleinhans.Enzo Falco and Reinout Kleinhans. Photo: Delft University of Technology

Municipalities and other government bodies are searching for new ways to communicate with citizens. Municipalities, in particular, are trying to realise far more "two-way traffic" in the communication. Consequently, they are increasing their use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Other platforms and digital social networks are also being used for this purpose. This gives residents the possibility to become more involved in the design, elaboration and implementation of policy measures and plans, is the assumption underlying this.

Overcoming challenges

Municipalities that want to achieve this still need to overcome many challenges, but the research of Kleinhans and Falco reveals that these challenges usually have little to do with the technology itself. Kleinhans: ‘The Facebook and Twitter accounts of municipalities are usually set up well. The problems mainly lie in establishing and enforcing codes of conduct for employees on social media, for example. The skills to properly analyse and interpret social media posts are often lacking too. Furthermore, the so-called back office of municipalities is often not set up in such a way that it can quickly pick up and implement useful suggestions from citizens.’

Kleinhans and Falco discovered even more pitfalls in the interactive communication between government and citizens. ‘Furthermore, the biggest challenges lie in protecting privacy-sensitive data and harmonising the activities performed by different municipal departments. There are still considerable shortcomings in these areas. Improvements are also needed in identifying relevant parties involved and providing feedback to citizens.’

In the policy brief, Kleinhans and Falco also produced a series of practical tips for national and local government bodies to tackle these challenges. ‘At the end of the day, the government wants to be able to communicate and cooperate with citizens in an effective and satisfactory manner, even outside office hours. That is possible using our manual.’
The policy brief can be found at: https://jpi-urbaneurope.eu/app/uploads/2017/12/Policy-Brief-SmartGov-171215-1.pdf.

Reinout Kleinhans and Enzo Falco working on the project ‘SmartGov. Advanced decision support for Smart Governance’.

 

Source: NWO