How Cities Are Using Mobile Apps to Engage Their Citizens

Guest Blogger

Hannah H.

Bringing Tech to the City

In today’s digital landscape, mobile apps have emerged as transformative tools in community development and engagement. A study conducted by the National League of Cities revealed that over 80% of citizens now prefer using mobile apps to access government services and information. This statistic underscores the increasing trend of cities leveraging mobile applications to interact with their residents.  

From interactive town maps to public services, transit, and non-emergency assistance, cities are embracing mobile apps to enrich the citizen experience. This trend has given rise to a diverse array of mobile apps and innovations, ranging from e-Permits to transit routes and community event calendars. Ultimately, mobile apps offer the potential to enhance city management, foster sustainable development, and elevate the quality of life for citizens. Let’s delve into some of the ways cities are harnessing mobile apps to engage their residents:

1. General Government Information & Services

Relocating to a new city can be an anxiety-inducing experience, compounded by the challenges of meeting new friends and finding suitable housing. Then there are the seemingly simple tasks that now feel daunting as you work to establish your roots—like finding the grocery store with the freshest products, scoping out green spaces, or uncovering downtown happenings. Fortunately, city apps can alleviate some of these burdens as they are designed to facilitate citizen engagement and keep you informed about upcoming events, city-wide meetings, and more.

Let’s look at an example in Morrisville, North Carolina. Lithios collaborated with Morrisville to develop a smart city app, termed Morrisville Central, that went on to win a Smart50 award in 2023. Morrisville Central offers a range of engaging features tailored to enhance the citizen experience. From providing information about upcoming events to offering an interactive town map and enabling residents to report concerns, Morrisville Central caters to a variety of citizen needs.

Residents can also conveniently book free rides on the Morrisville Smart Shuttle directly through the app. Additionally, the platform serves as a gateway to the city’s social media page and provides seamless navigation to access additional resources, including job listings, live meeting streams, and the request process for public records or e-Permits.

2. Licensing & Public Services

Cities are also leveraging mobile apps for licensing and delivering innovative services. For example, Utah uses their Hunting & Fishing app to streamline the process for citizens to get various licenses and permits. Citizens can also access valuable resources on the app, such as boundary maps, shooting hours, and fish identifications. The success of this app is in the numbers. Within the first two years of its inception, it was downloaded by nearly one-third of all license holders across the state.

Additionally, governments are increasingly using mobile apps to enhance their public service offerings. This spans from accessing your personal identification, healthcare, social security, and various other services through mobile apps.  

Let’s take utilities and bill paying as an example. The city of Wilson’s Citizen Portal, developed by Lithios, simplifies the management and payment of bills for residents. Gone are the days of juggling multiple phone calls or navigating through numerous browser tabs on bill day. The Citizen Portal app consolidates power, water, and internet bills into a unified platform providing residents with a seamless and efficient bill-paying experience. This app also helps the city better manage any utility issues, track data, and provide cohesive solutions for their citizens.

3. Transit & Transportation

Cities are harnessing transportation and transit apps in a multitude of ways to assist and engage their citizens effectively. Whether you need real-time traffic updates, access to public transportation schedules, or information on available parking spots, many cities have seamlessly integrated these features into mobile apps for user convenience. 

For example, VDOT 511 is Virginia’s official source for traffic and travel information. This mobile app also provides alerts for any incidents impacting travel. Additionally, users can access live traffic cameras, view road conditions, and receive personalized route recommendations. 

The development of transportation apps has also significantly enhanced citizen’s daily commutes. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) introduced the GoPass app, facilitating public transportation across Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton County. This app also integrates with Uber to provide access to their services in conjunction with DART’s system. 

Ultimately, these transit and transportation apps provide a valuable service to citizens, reduce costs, and make government services more efficient. 

4. Town Service Requests

A 311 app is a great way that cities, specifically Public Works departments, can enhance citizen’s experiences. Designed to take the burden off 911 calls, 311 apps empower citizens to report non-emergency issues—ranging from graffiti to broken streetlights and potholes—quickly and conveniently. Citizens can use precise location data to submit comprehensive requests and then track their statuses. Fostering collaboration within the community, 311 apps serve as a way to communicate with government officials.

The data collected in 311 apps also serves as invaluable information for city planning initiatives, infrastructure projects, and as a way to help government officials prioritize the needs of the community. Additionally, many 311 apps feature interactive forums and discussion boards for citizens to share their ideas or organize local events, further strengthening community engagement. 

For example, Boston’s 311 app showcases city service announcements and links to the city website for upcoming events. Similarly, MyLA311 conveniently integrates the city’s social media channels and bill pay into the app, enhancing user convenience and engagement.

Just the Beginning

Although mobile apps are not a one-size-fits-all solution to community engagement, they greatly help citizens stay up-to-date on the latest city news and events. They serve as invaluable channels for citizens to communicate issues and suggestions directly to the town’s relevant officials, fostering a culture of transparency and collaboration. The local market for such apps is its infancy and is bound to grow. 

As technology evolves, cities continue to strive to meet the needs of their citizens. By investing in mobile apps cities can effectively highlight downtown activities and parks, streamline licensing processes, provide real-time transit and transportation information, and streamline the process of town service requests. In doing so, cities pave the way for a more engaged and happy community, driving positive outcomes for both residents and local governments.

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