Cities Go Mobile With Civic Engagement Apps

iCity, one of two new mobile applications developed by Citizenengine Inc., gives cities a tool to communicate and engage with residents more thoroughly and efficiently than other methods, says Citizenengine Inc. CEO Rod Massey, who talked with us last week.

By Lisa Battles on October 10, 2013 at 4:00 am CDT

iCity logo

A Nashville, Tenn., company aims to help city governments improve their city's livability with iCity, a mobile application for civic engagement. iCity, one of two new mobile applications developed by Citizenengine Inc., gives cities a tool to communicate and engage with residents more thoroughly and efficiently than other methods, says Citizenengine Inc. CEO Rod Massey, who talked with us last week.

"When you talk about livability, consider first that we all have very busy lives. Look at what the original mission was for a government: To promote the overall social and economic prosperity of the community. iCity gives cities the ability to conveniently provide residents that connection to local government and promote that overall social and economic prosperity," Massey says.

Massey demonstrated iCity in use by Brewton, Ala., Camden, S.C., and Salt Lake County, Utah's Parks & Recreation Department, just a few of the company's approximately 20 city customers since offering the product in November 2012. The app allows cities to customize features to its needs, but primarily it allows cities to:

  • Encourage residents to get involved in local government with a social component that aggregates government officials' and any other relevant Twitter feeds
  • Promote local businesses and city amenities to existing residents and visitors through location listings, complete with contact information and GPS mapping capabilities
  • Open an easy line of communication for day-to-day city issues like potholes, traffic and weather alerts with a “311” reporting function and an alerts function
  • Increase participation in community events and civic meetings with news feeds from local news outlets, civic and community groups, enhanced by the calendar and alerts features

Massey cites two reasons cities stand to gain more from using the app to do these things. First, he points to recent numbers showing that people now prefer mobile devices over desktop and laptop computers.

“Mobile growth has actually surpassed desktop. Apple sold more mobile devices in 2012 than they sold computers, ever. So if you think about that and have been around as long as I have, since Apple started in its infancy with the Mac, and the II, and the IIc, and all their computers since. In one year, they sold more mobile devices than they sold computers, ever,” Massey says. “On the other side, if you look at Android devices, there are actually more Android activations on a daily basis than there are babies born in the world. So that's a pretty staggering statistic. In fact, it almost triples it. There are over a million Android activations and babies born is more than 300,000 worldwide. That just gives you an idea of the staggering adoption that you are seeing here. For governments that are trying to reach out, connect and create more livable communities, their audience has left the building. They are trying to do that with a website, through a desktop, and that's no longer valid, really.”

Second, he adds that statistics show when people are given the choice, they prefer to use a well-developed app on their mobile devices versus surfing a website on their tablet or smartphone.

“The challenge with [a mobile or responsive website] is it's not really usable. Studies show that users prefer a native mobile application over responsive mobile or mobile Web 85 percent to 15 percent. So the question I always ask local governments is, 'Do you want to make it easier on yourself, or do you want to make it easier on your citizens?'” Massey says. “If you want to make it easier on your citizens, there's no question about it. You really need to deliver a native mobile application. So that's what we do at iCity: Give them the ability to have that branded presence out there.”

Massey says that while there are other apps available to city governments for communicating with citizens, iCity is the most robust with features. He shared a personal story relevant to his favorite feature, the calendar, as an example of what the app can do: Now a Franklin, Tenn., resident whose career has led him and his family to live in many places across the country, he says it can be a challenge to find and keep up with opportunities to enjoy a community – especially a brand-new one. His 6-year-old son loves an event they discovered in Franklin, called Touch-a-Truck, in which the city brings various public service vehicles such as police cruisers, sanitation trucks and fire trucks at a local park. For the last event, he and his son arrived at the park only to find it had been rained out, much to his son's disappointment.

“I knew I had to go back and look for when the next event would be and remember to go," Massey says. "A city that has a mobile application like ours with a community calendar gives people the ability to take that particular event and add it to their calendar right from their device. Plus, cities can use the alerts function for more than just emergencies. An alert letting us know the event had been canceled would have saved us the trip to the park.”

Along the same lines, the City of Brewton, Ala. used their app to let residents know a logging truck wreck was creating a traffic snarl downtown so they could avoid the area, he says. The application can be used for more specific audiences, too. Salt Lake County (Utah) Parks and Recreation gears all content toward users of its parks facilities and programs. The University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., uses the company's newest product iCity Plus, which offers even more customization than the basic iCity product, and the City of Ridgeland, Miss., will launch an iCity Plus app soon. To see iCity application in action, visit Apple or Android app stores for free downloads:

  • For Camden, S.C., search “City of Camden, South Carolina” for the Grab Life app.
  • For Brewton, Ala., search “City of Brewton, Alabama” for the Brewton app.
  • For Ogden, Utah, search “iOgden” for the iOgden app.
  • To see iCity Plus application in action, search “University of Mississippi” for the Official Ole Miss App.
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