The COVID-19 pandemic has put into stark relief the value of a robust city communications strategy and the need for governments at every level to invest in advanced communications technology.
Cities and towns need a communications infrastructure that lets public workers communicate securely from home or from the office. Any technological investments must facilitate fast, reliable communication to the public, especially during short-term emergencies, such as accidents or power outages, or ongoing crises, such as a pandemic.
Implementing advanced communication technology in the public sector provides many benefits, but several key considerations should be taken into account if municipalities are to realize those benefits and effectively communicate with their citizens.
Serving the public and public workers
A robust city communications strategy is critical because its messages need to reach several stakeholders.
Public administrators and elected officials must share information that stakeholders need to know—but when so many different constituents and interest groups are engaged by different departments and services, messages can get lost in the static of conflicting information. To get everyone on the same page, information exchange should be supported across departments and through every level of government—legislators, policymakers and, most of all, the public, including and especially beneficiaries of government programs.
People look for transparency from their public servants, and advanced communications technology plays an important role in sharing information. As the pandemic has shown, crystal-clear, agenda-free communications is of the essence during a crisis, whether it's a quick communiqué about health and safety information in an evolving situation or disseminating long-term plans to address important constituent issues.
One way advanced communications technology facilitates transparency and efficiency is through e-government initiatives. Every city department can—and should—use the internet to provide details about policy initiatives, upcoming meetings and deliberations, rules, procedures and other initiatives and changes that might affect the public, whether it's the general population or specific interest groups.
Ultimately, advanced communications technology can facilitate an open and ongoing dialogue between city administrators, elected officials and the residents they serve.
Key characteristics of a strong city communications strategy
Leveraging advanced communication technology in the public sector also yields technical benefits.
Better technology can make city communications more immediate. When various departments and agencies use the same systems and access the same data, members of the public receive consistent messages around government initiatives and guidance during crises—ensuring that everyone's on the same page.
Additionally, a robust city communications strategy should include a plan for citywide notification and communication and secure internal communications. Advanced communication technology can support impromptu emergency messaging, but it can also enable public interaction through events such as virtual town halls.
For city communications initiatives to be successful, there are several things public officials need to consider when deploying advanced communications solutions.
Every audience—whether government workers or city residents—should be supported with accessible communications. This goes beyond devices and network; strategies must consider any barriers to accessible communication, whether through email, virtual reference materials or websites. When making sure that websites are accessible, consider how the site is accessed and the content that lives on it.
Siloed information hinders communication. Every tool within and across departments should connect seamlessly and use the same data. Tools should also be able to publish information for public consumption as necessary, whether it's a scheduled website update or real-time updates to digital signage to provide guidance in an emergency.
Public sector workers need information on the go, and the public wants immediate access to information without jumping through hoops. To meet those ends, any city communications strategy should prioritize mobility. This could include formatting information for consumption on mobile devices, providing access using kiosks and real-time updates conveyed through digital signage.
Security and privacy
Any advanced communications technology should be secured and keep its data private—both to comply with privacy legislation and to maintain public trust. All data should be encrypted either in transit or at rest, whether it's day-to-day conversations or emergency communications. Access should be controlled so that only the people who need the information are able to see it.