Connecting state and local government leaders
The poll of over 800 local government officials looks at trends with how departments are embracing specialized software and how satisfied they are with it.
Fire and police agencies were more likely than other types of local government departments to have adopted new computer software in recent years, while agencies dealing with planning and zoning, finance and procurement were some of the least likely to have done so.
That’s just one finding from a new survey on local government software trends conducted by the nonprofit research group CivicPulse in partnership with Route Fifty, The Atlas and Power Almanac. The results, released Wednesday, are based on a national poll of 823 people who work across 13 leadership positions in local government.
When looking at the likelihood that specific departments adopted new specialized software in the past three years, fire protection agencies led the pack, followed by law enforcement, water departments and public works. About half of respondents representing these types of agencies said they’d adopted new software during the past three years.
In contrast, only 30% of respondents for purchasing and procurement and finance departments said the same. For land-use, planning and zoning agencies, the figure was 26%.
Local governments might turn to specialized software as a way to improve internal work processes, or to support public facing services that people access online.
The survey also found that, for local governments, adopting new software in the next year or so is a lower priority than in mid-2020, when CivicPulse conducted a similar survey. The share of department heads who said adopting new software would be a high, or very high, priority fell to 21% in this year’s survey compared to 32% last year.
This is perhaps not surprising. Last year, local agencies scrambled to ramp up online services as the coronavirus pandemic left public employees working from home and led to restrictions on in-person visits to government buildings.
“It does seem like the data does support the idea that adopting new software really helped meet these challenges and really avoid what could have been a bigger crisis,” said Nathan Lee, managing director of CivicPulse and a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, referring to software adoption during the pandemic.
Overall, 68% of officials reported that implementing new software has had a positive effect on their local government. But a closer look reveals variation based on population size.
While local leaders from 91% of localities with more than 50,000 residents said they saw benefits from new software, the same was true for just 61% with populations under 10,000 and 72% with populations in the 10,000 to 50,000 range.
“Smaller local governments are way less likely to adopt specialized software,” noted Lee. “Not only that, the ones who do adopt specialized software are less satisfied with it.”
One factor that might help to explain what’s going on here is that specialized software often provides ways to automate processes and services and the benefits of the technology tend to grow in tandem with the scale of the work that it is being used for.
So, while a big city that rolls out a new platform to handle citizen service requests might see major efficiency gains if submissions are coming in by the thousands, the same may not be true if the technology were deployed in a smaller town handling fewer requests.
“The benefits to automation are just lower when you have a smaller scale community,” Lee said. He added that a possible concern is that some “smaller local governments, which also tend to have more rural, older demographics, are sort of potentially being left behind.”
A report with the full survey results can be found here.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.
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