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New Research Shows COVID-19 Drives Government Digital Transformation 

The last few months have been challenging for government agencies, to say the least. COVID-19 put government service and communication capabilities to the ultimate test; but at the same time, it gave local agencies a clear picture of what needs to change. 

At Granicus, we wanted to better understand the new challenges that governments face in the wake of COVID-19. In a new survey, we asked 1,490 government officials and citizens across the U.S. to share the biggest challenges they’ve faced in light of COVID-19, and what they think is the best path forward for government agencies to more effectively serve their citizens. Here’s what we found.

GOVERNMENT DIGITAL TRANSFORMATIONS ARE AT AN INFLECTION POINT

Throughout COVID-19, government agencies were challenged to meet heightened expectations and increased demand for their services. In fact, government officials and citizens agree that meeting demand for assistance and services has been the top challenge throughout the pandemic (28% and 41%, respectively), followed closely by citizen confusion and frustration (25% and 30%). Overall, government officials reported a seven percent drop in confidence in the strength of their organizations’ customer service following COVID-19.

These challenges and gaps in online service delivery have fundamentally changed expectations for local governments. Agencies have reached a point of no return when it comes to digitizing government operations; citizens expect simpler processes, offered online.  

  • Government officials and citizens alike believe COVID-19 has changed expectations for how governments should operate (64% and 44%, respectively); more specifically, 54% of citizens expect services to be offered online, and 30% expect processes to be simpler.
  • 82% of government officials believe that their organization needs to become more technologically advanced.
  • COVID-19 has provided the spark to accelerate this mission; 61% of officials believe COVID-19 expedited digital transformation at their organization.

Many local governments have wanted to digitize for years, but faced obstacles like limited budgets, bureaucratic processes and legacy systems. COVID-19 created a fresh urgency to modernize, and a unique opportunity for local agencies to set aside these obstacles and reimagine how they connect with citizens. 

NEW CHALLENGES CREATE NEW OPPORTUNITIES

COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for governments to rethink how they can best serve their citizens through proactive, transparent communications; citizen-centric digital experiences and engagement opportunities; and always-on service delivery. States like Oklahoma have pivoted quickly to this new reality, bringing their unemployment applications process online in just 48 hours.

From our research, we spotted three major opportunities for growth among local governments: civic engagement, digital transformation and combating misinformation.

Civic Engagement

Amid uncertainty, citizens are increasingly turning to government agencies for answers and information. Local governments have an opportunity to harness this increased interest and attention for sustained engagement, growing their audiences and building two-way communication capability through digital channels. 

Our research results clearly illustrate the potential for stronger engagement:

  • When the virus began, email open and click rates both spiked (22% and 36% increases, respectively) and traffic to local government websites surged 25%.
  • 30% of government officials say their organization only offers in-person opportunities for civic engagement, indicating significant room for improvement. 
  • Governments and citizens alike believe civic participation would be higher if opportunities were available online (54% and 44%, respectively).

One example of a city making the most of heightened engagement is New York. New York Governor Cuomo used his highly subscribed email newsletter to ask more than 500,000 residents with presumed medical skills to volunteer in NY hospitals, and successfully recruited 40,000 volunteers. 

Digital Transformation

Citizens now expect services to be simple, accessible and readily available online. Governments are eager to meet these rising expectations and are ramping up their digitization efforts accordingly, moving services like driver’s license renewals, permit applications and unemployment online. 

In our survey, we found that:

  • 61% of officials believe COVID-19 accelerated their digital transformation efforts. 
  • 52% of citizens say they’ve noticed governments are beginning to offer more online options.
  • 75% of government officials say their organization is moving toward providing more services online.
Combating Misinformation 

The spread of misinformation during COVID-19 has been so severe that the problem is considered an “infodemic.” Government has an opportunity to replace unreliable sources with proactive, consistent communication with constituents. 

For example, when the City of Berkeley’s first resident tested positive for COVID-19, City staff used Granicus’s govDelivery solution to send email and social media notifications to residents within a matter of hours and quickly launched a web page with information and updates. 

Here’s what respondents had to say about the spread of misinformation: 

  • Governments and citizens alike believe it can be difficult to identify accurate COVID-19 information (84% and 87%, respectively); one-third of government officials believe that their organization is battling misinformation.
  • 97% of government officials believe communicating timely, accurate information helps address and prevent the spread of misinformation regarding COVID-19.
  • 33% of citizens consider the government to be their go-to source for accurate information.
  • While citizens perceive government information as accurate, only 52% of respondents indicated that they received any information on COVID-19 from their local government, underscoring an urgent opportunity for governments to evaluate their audience reach.

In addition to our suite of tools for supporting local, state and federal governments through the COVID-19 pandemic, Granicus offers a range of resources for expediting the digitization of government agencies and can offer expert advice & best practices on the use of CARES Act funding. For more information on how Granicus can help your agency, see here. For more information on the survey results, see here.