By Melissa Kuehne.

Technology can help counties change the who, when, where and how of educating and engaging local residents. Whether it’s economic development, housing, immigrant integration or a contentious local issue, counties are experimenting with different kinds of technology to enhance their engagement of the public. Whether the goal is to broaden participation, accelerate progress on decision making or create a “safe space” for feedback on tough issues, online tools can help your county achieve those goals, and present an important opportunity to expand the number and diversity of voices providing input to local decision-making.

According to Pew Research Center, approximately 70 percent of American adults used at least one social media platform to connect with each other, share information and read news. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of adults get their news from online platforms. With these numbers trending upward over the last decade, online engagement and communication are more important than ever to counties across California.

Benefits of Online Engagement

Counties are seeing many benefits of online engagement including:

  • The ability to reach diverse audiences – online options allow residents to provide input at their convenience (location and time of day);
  • More informed participants – counties are able to provide essential background information with varying levels of detail for different issues and audiences, keep information up to date and respond to questions as they arise;
  • Broader range of perspectives – online tools present opportunities to include broader (and possibly more moderate) perspectives than public meetings that are often attended primarily by passionate advocates; and
  • More sustained engagement – counties can create a transparent repository of all public input which can be drawn on for later use to develop an audience of informed and interested residents cross issues and agency departments.

The Institute for Local Government (ILG) offers tools, tips and resources on a variety of public engagement topics and challenges. To find out more visit

ILG Offers Free Technology to Enhance Public Meetings

ILG also offers local agencies the use of handheld wireless devices for a process known as keypad polling. These devices are typically used in a meeting to gather instantaneous responses from individual participants. When combined with dialogue, this technology allows participants to anonymously select or prioritize options and then immediately view the group’s collective judgment or the opinions of different subsets of participants. For more information contact Hanna Stelmakhovych at

Engaging Audiences through Surveys and Polls

Have you ever had the results of your survey fail to provide you with the information you were after? How questions are constructed has a big impact on the usefulness of the information received. ILG hosted a webinar to help counties and other local governments learn about different survey technologies and best practices for question construction. Please click this link to find the recording of the webinar.