The Role of Digital Government in Enhancing Citizen Engagement

Published on June 15, 2023

In today’s world, where everything is becoming more digital, governments are realizing the importance of involving citizens in public matters.

They want people to actively particpate and have a say in decisions that affect their lives.

To make this happen, governments are embracing digital technologies and using data to their advantage.

This means they can offer more opportunities for people to engage and have a voice in shaping policies and services.

By harnessing the power of digital tools and information, governments are finding exciting new ways to connect with citizens and meet their rising expectations.

But what is citizen engagement exactly, how is that achieved, and what to keep in mind?

What is citizen engagement, and why is it important?

Citizen engagement simply means involving everyday people (like you and me) in matters that affect our communities and society as a whole.

It’s about giving people the opportunity to have a say in the policies, programs, and services that shape their lives.

Think of it as a way to bridge the gap between the government and its citizens.

Citizen engagement is seen as a crucial tool in advancing the government’s digital agenda, with a strong focus on improving the well-being of citizens.

It aims to foster a sense of shared ownership and collective responsibility – ensuring that policies and services being developed truly reflect the needs and aspirations of the people.

The relationship between the state and citizens matters for national development

In the quest for progress and development, it’s vital for governance to be accountable and responsive to the diverse groups within society.

We all know that power is not evenly distributed, but governments MUST ensure that the benefits of development reachs everyone… especially those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

This is where society steps in as a key player, working hand in hand with governments to promote transparency, accountability, and effectiveness.  

It becomes a powerful force for better governance, pushing for innovative solutions to tackle complex challenges.

So, citizen engagement has been shown to lead to tangible improvements in a number of areas such as:

●     public service delivery

●     financial management

●     governance

●     social inclusion

●     empowerment

According to the World Bank’s GovTech Maturity Index the citizen engagement index had the lowest average score (0.449) in 2022.

More than 150 countries placed greater emphasis on interaction with citizens and engagement services and channels (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

But, even though 50% of governments have implemented mechanisms or digital platforms to enable citizen feedback, there is little evidence of their proper utilization – according to the report.

How can governments increase engagement and participation?

Social media platforms have emerged as a convenient solution for government bodies to engage with citizens without the hassle of developing and managing their own platforms.

By utilizing social media, governments can not only share information but also gather feedback from the public.

Take, for instance, the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which uses social media as a customer service tool, allowing users to reach out and receive personalized responses at their convenience.

To encourage direct input from citizens on city decisions, governments can also introduce direct platforms that WORK.

These platforms are usually designed to combine both traditional and digital methods of engagement –meaning that they cater to diverse preferences and ensure wider participation.

Let’s take a look at some examples of these digital initiatives:

●     Citizen feedback and complaint-handling mechanisms

●     Public consultations

●     Crowdsourcing

●     Participatory budget platforms

●     e-Petitions platforms

●     Digital voting systems

However, the success of these feedback systems relies heavily on citizens’ willingness to participate.

It relies on their perception that their feedback will be meaningfully addressed and that there will be no negative consequences for voicing complaints or concerns.

That’s why building trust and assurance in the process is crucial for fostering active citizen engagement.

In a nutshell, leveraging social media and digital tools can provide cost-effective and efficient ways for governments to interact with citizens and gather their inputs.

Bottom line

Governments around the world are recognizing the importance of involving citizens in decision-making processes and utilizing digital technologies to facilitate meaningful interactions.

Whether through social media platforms, participatory budgeting, or online consultations, these tools empower citizens and enhance transparency and accountability in governance.

By ensuring meaningful responses and creating a safe space for feedback… governments can encourage citizen participation and strengthen the bond between the public and decision-makers.


About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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