Our guest blogger today, is Sid Burgess. Sid is the Director of Government Relations at DotGov, Inc — the creators of YouTown-Putting government in your pocket.
For some time now, mobile government has been touted as the next big thing for agencies striving for better connection with citizens. After all, mobile communications are growing as the tools become more affordable and common. If people are already using their smart-phones for social, business, and consumer purposes, it makes sense for governments to reach out this way — but many agencies don’t know where to begin, especially if resources and funds are limited. It’s one thing to create a Facebook page, but mobile technologies can seem to be an elusive goal for your average local gov.
Enter the newly launched, fast-growing mobile gov app YouTown — making open government more easily achievable for agencies at the municipal and county levels. It functions as a platform that allows governments to publish news, maps, events, and services to the smart-phones of citizens, so an agency can go mobile without a long app development process.
Combining a familiar user interface with customizable settings that cater to specific people groups (i.e. Families, Tourists, Seniors, Residents, etc.), YouTown delivers a mobile citizen-to-government connection that has been difficult for most agencies to achieve — until now. This isn’t an app that has a long ramp-up phase either. Governments can sign up for free and go mobile the same day.
For end-users, YouTown provides a mobile resource for things that are sometimes hard to find — schedules for council meetings, information on licenses or recycling programs, traffic or police updates, maps for city facilities or libraries. Cities like Prattville, AL are finding the app useful for tourism as well — visitors can download the app free, gaining immediate mobile access to local attractions, events, sports schedules, or shows.
Openness made easy
Governments aiming to increase transparency and openness will find YouTown an inexpensive, easy-to-use platform that allows them to leverage any open data feeds or calendars they may already be publishing to a website. By simply pasting the feed into the YouTown interface, the data becomes viewable on the mobile devices of citizens. The app also supports real-time data, like the “911 Map” in Shawnee, OK, which allows citizens to view the location and nature of recent police incidents in the area.
No website? No problem! Even small agencies with little or no web presence can go mobile with YouTown in just a few minutes. Governments have the option of manually creating content right in the YouTown interface — news articles, events, service descriptions, even maps. Publishing mobile data allows agencies to take that first step toward open government, regardless of whether the agency already has an online presence. It’s not uncommon for big cities like open-data leader San Francisco to develop dozens of their own customized mobile apps . Smaller agencies don’t have the resources for this, but YouTown acts as a platform so cities can provide an “app experience” to citizens without breaking the budget. “We bundle mobile development efforts for all these cities, so agencies don’t have to create their own apps. They can sign up and start publishing, skipping the whole development and design process,” said Michael Riedyk, CEO of DotGov, the Seattle-based company that created YouTown.
Helping citizens understand their governments
YouTown opens a world of information and services to residents, making it easier for them to understand the workings, schedules, and offerings of their local governments. For services like paying traffic citations, licensing pets, or probating a will, citizens can view info on cost, what to bring, how long it takes, and more. Some cities have even integrated their online bill-pay services, so people can make payments right from their mobile phones. Agencies across the U.S. and Canada are publishing unique information to help residents get the most out of their communities:
- Nanaimo, Canada publishes information about their parks department under “Recreation Services.” This is an example of a city that uses the YouTown app to connect citizens to a portion of the city website (essentially creating a mobile version of an existing site). Clicking into recreation services, residents and visitors to Nanaimo can browse Activity Guides, Trails, Parks, and more.
- Morris County, NJ provides directions for their historic Downtown Walking Tours on the YouTown app — useful for tourists. In addition, they publish county-specific services like how to get a passport, probate a will, or seek career services in Morris County. All these services contain links to further information and contact numbers.
- Enid, OK has focused on providing excellent maps for their citizens. They’ve grouped their maps into categories that make it easier to “browse” the city geographically. The map labeled “Family Fun in Enid” provides locations for a water park, golf courses, planetarium, country club, bowling, speedway, etc. Local “Dining” and “Shopping” options are contained in maps of their own. For everyday needs, the city has also published maps pinpointing local schools, fire stations, and lodging. Citizens and tourists will all benefit from the convenience of having these maps waiting for them at the literal tap of a fingertip.
Mobile communications continue to expand, reaching a broader segment of the population than ever before, with a heavy focus on data and interaction. It just makes sense for governments desiring greater connection and transparency to “go mobile” in some form. YouTown combines open data and mobile communication — making it easier for even “little govs” to achieve their open government goals.