In today’s society where citizens are constantly connected to the online world, many organisations feel the pressure to be ‘always-on’ by providing continuous channels for customers and stakeholders to get in touch, be it via digital self-service offerings, social media or a 24/7 hotline.

In other words, the ubiquity of networks, multiple smart devices and Wi-Fi that is available anywhere and at any time is creating a demand from customers for organisations to provide services that meet their 24/7 connected lives. Industries leading this digital-first approach to customer engagement include financial, telecommunications and aviation.

The misconnected citizen

Unfortunately for those typically slower technology adopters, such as government organisations where budget restraints and bureaucratic red tape can often create significant technological barriers, meeting the needs of the connected citizen can be difficult.

As a result, many consumers engaging with the type of organisation that hasn’t transformed into a digital-first environment find the interaction frustrating and disengaging.

This kind of stakeholder is now referred to as the misconnected citizen; a growing demographic of consumers who expect a digital-first and personalised response, in a timely manner. Marketing for this citizen must always be customised and relevant to their unique situation; otherwise it is treated with disdain.

Service-based organisations and particularly federal and local governments are keen to offer this service; however they still have a long way to go to achieve this goal.

The needs and challenges ahead for local government

A Civica research report entitled, The Changing Landscape for Local Government in Australia and New Zealand, gathered the views of senior leaders and other stakeholders in the local government sector to identify the changing needs and challenges for the council of 2025.

Top 3 trends identified by respondents

  1. The provision of flexible working environments supported by mobile devices
  2. Information delivery via multichannel communication vehicles
  3. The availability of community portals for information on government services.

Following the research, the local government sector is increasingly aware of this disconnect between the citizen and the council; however councils are still slowly developing strategies to offer relevant communication services to meet ratepayers and residents needs and wants.

5 core characteristics of local community members

  1. Always connected and mobile
  2. Living longer and within multigenerational households
  3. Independent and self-serving
  4. Demanding and impatient
  5. Diverse and increasing population size.

All these factors mean that local governments will face increasing challenges in meeting their charter to ensure access to community based services including aged care, local development and environmental support. The challenge, of course, is to ensure that information about those services reaches the people it is meant for so they can gain the full benefits provided.

Meeting the demands of the misconnected citizen

The latest data from the Australian Communication and Media Association (ACMA) shows that more than 8.7 million Australians are now using smartphones that roam seamlessly between mobile data and Wi-Fi networks. Nearly half respondents regard their mobile phone as their most used device.

And this trend is even more acute among young adults, those aged 18–44, who are the most active digital citizens, with 100 per cent of them going online in the 6 months to May 2014.

Interestingly, older Aussies (those aged 65 and over) aren’t too far behind, with 68 per cent going online during this period. They’re also increasingly using mobile phones to access the internet (up 7 per cent).

This will increase as Australia and New Zealand lead the global trend that forecasts that over the next 5 years there will be a 13-times increase in the amount of mobile broadband downloads alone.

The continuing process around council amalgamation is also driving this need to better communicate and connect with the community. With about 570 local government organisations in Australia and 65 councils in New Zealand providing essential services to more than 27 million people, the task of ensuring government at all levels connects with its citizenry is vital.

To be successful in this journey, the local government sector must focus on high-touch, relevant communication in order to reconnect with the misconnected citizen and in order to make council services more accessible and appropriate.