It is so important for Americans across the country to engage with their government, and so far this year more and more citizens are seeking ways to engage in civic life.
Empowering citizens to make informed decisions and offer direction to who governs them — and how they want to be governed — is essential to making our democracy work. Often, this kind of citizen engagement is most impactful at the city level.
As mayors, we are excited about the role that technology can play in providing opportunities for our residents to engage in civic life, especially our most underserved populations. Technology and high-speed connectivity have the potential to arm citizens with information and provide them with platforms to directly interact with decision-makers and democratic processes that affect, and can improve, their daily lives.
Last year, our three cities — Raleigh, N.C.; Austin, Texas; and Louisville, Ky. — were recognized by Next Century Cities for our efforts to use next-generation broadband to improve civic engagement. As winners of the inaugural Benton Next Generation Engagement Award, we were excited to launch projects that foster civic participation in our cities, especially for residents who have previously lacked access to broadband and digital tools to connect with government.
Each of our projects represents different approaches for using technology to involve more of our residents in civic life so they can help improve their communities. In Raleigh, a team developed InVision Raleigh, an immersive online beta tool that will make it easier for citizens to get involved in visioning and planning with local government.
In Austin, the public housing authority created a new program called Smart Work, Learn, Play that engages public housing residents near two public transportation hubs. The project aims to connect underserved communities with opportunities by increasing their ability to use online public services, especially around transportation decisions.
And in Louisville, the city wired an existing community center with gigabit connectivity, creating a Gigabit Experience Center that now serves as a hub for digital training and online civic engagement activities. The goal of the center is to educate the public — particularly historically underserved portions of the community — about the importance of high-speed Internet access and to provide an opportunity for residents to build their digital skills.
Now that we have implemented these projects over the last year, we’re excited to share our progress with other mayors and community leaders, so they can build on our achievements in civic tech in a way that accounts for the unique needs of their residents.
Though each took a different approach, all of our programs are joined by a desire to bolster participation in local government. We all had the common goal of providing opportunities for our residents and using technology in ways that will improve their day-to-day lives and experiences with city services and decisions.
One thing noted in the new playbook is that all three of our projects underscore the close relationship between civic engagement and digital inclusion. In order to involve more of our citizens in civic life with technological tools, we need to be able to reach those citizens in the first place.
Government leaders often laud the great potential of technology to enact swift and wide-reaching change. We are eager to involve more of our residents in these new, tech-powered civic engagement programs and show measurable action in our cities for the betterment of all.
We hope our efforts will encourage and assist city leaders across America who want to tap technology and next-generation broadband connectivity in order to engage their citizens and directly contribute to improving residents’ lives.
Steve Adler has served as mayor of Austin, Texas, since January 2015, and has focused primarily on the city's growing affordability crisis and worsening traffic.
Greg Fischer is in his second term as mayor of Louisville, Ky. In office since 2011, he has focused on three main goals for Louisville: becoming a city of lifelong learning, a healthier city and a more compassionate city.
Nancy McFarlane has served as mayor of Raleigh, N.C., since 2011, and has a reputation for advocating for the community to improve public schools, protect neighborhoods and the environment, and support public transportation and the expansion of transit options.