How to Get Younger Citizens Engaged in Your Meetings

Lena Eisenstein
6 min read

Scott Resnick of Madison, Wisconsin, was elected as an alderperson at the age of 24, making him the youngest alderperson in the country. Resnick attributes his enthusiasm for service in local government to becoming involved in city councils throughout his high school and college years. He states that the voice of younger citizens '...adds value to the design of local policies, practices, and public spaces.'

Our iCompass survey of government workers shows that local governments are very interested in engaging younger citizens in community work. Local governments need the technological skills with which the millennial generation has grown up. The current shortage of information technology (IT) talent is creating a viable career path and unlimited job opportunities for millennials interested in IT and cybersecurity.

This is the prime time for local governments to interest younger citizens in issues of local government where government workers and younger citizens can develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Local Governments Value the Engagement of Younger Citizens

Results from the iCompass survey of local government workers support Resnick's philosophy about the value of engaging younger citizens in local government. On a scale of 1 to 10, with '10' being most important, almost 73% of government workers responded with a score of '7' or higher that they felt it was important to engage younger citizens in their communities. Of the elected officials, about 40% stated that they were concerned about increasing the engagement of the younger population.

Technology Bridges the Gap Between Municipalities and Millennials

You merely have to look around any public space to learn how to engage younger citizens. It's rare to see young people in any setting who don't have their heads buried in a smartphone or an electronic tablet. Younger citizens spend much of their time on social media apps. A study by The Manifest of 511 smartphone users showed that 21% of millennials opened electronic apps more than 50 times a day, compared with only 2% of baby boomers. At least 25% of the respondents said that they had deleted an app because their phone's storage space was full.

While younger citizens are spending many hours on social media apps, local governments are just beginning to learn how to use them to engage with their communities. According to our survey, local governments used Facebook Live most often, with 42% of respondents acknowledging using the app. About 23% of local governments are using Twitter Live. About 11% of the respondents said that they use the Nextdoor and YouTube apps. Not quite 8% of those who responded said that they used Instagram Live for engaging with their communities.

Millennials are already ahead of the game in their technological knowledge, and that is likely to increase as IT and cybersecurity are rapidly growing career fields. ISC2, a cybersecurity and IT professional organization, predicts that there will be 1.8 million cybersecurity jobs by 2022.

Our iCompass survey showed that almost 46% of local government workers said that implementing new technology was high on their list of priorities for the next 12 to 18 months. Our survey also indicated that local governments are committed to investing more of their budgets in technology. About 44% of the respondents said that they would be increasing their budgets for implementing technology over the last fiscal year.

Using Technology as a Gateway to Engage Younger Citizens

Video streaming of council meetings is a useful and emerging technology within local governments that enables citizens to view council meetings live online while they are in session. About 26% of those who responded to our survey indicated that they currently use some form of video streaming and another 35% of municipal clerks said that they had budgeted or planned for adding video streaming.

What Are the Benefits of Video Streaming?

With iCompass's Video Manager HD, local governments can offer their citizens the ability to watch their council meetings anywhere on any device. The platform integrates with YouTube, the world's leading video platform, which is one app with which younger citizens are quite familiar.

Video Manager HD provides the capability to livestream and share recorded meeting videos in HD. Video Manager HD also integrates with other helpful electronic solutions, such as agenda and minutes applications, so that viewers can go directly to a timestamp where they want to view meetings. Viewers can see a split screen of the meeting and the agenda. Clerks can also set up automated closed-captioning to display on the screen.

Video Manager HD features 360-degree viewing for the most enhanced viewing experience possible. Of those in our survey who currently use video streaming, almost 10% of them said that they'd consider moving to a platform that has 360-degree viewing capability.

Exploring Ways to Engage Younger Citizens

In a quest to learn how to engage younger citizens, the National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) developed a framework that comprises four critical elements to successfully engage younger citizens in their communities, which include:
  1. Developing a community setting that welcomes youth and recognizes their role in public policy, planning and decision-making.
  2. Strengthening a framework that meets the needs of local government and young people.
  3. Offering opportunities for a wide range of meaningful activities for youth, including participation in local government.
  4. Offering support and mentorship from adults inside and outside of local government to enable young people to have a real impact on issues that concern them.

Many local governments have engaged younger citizens by creating positions in government for youth. Local governments may consider starting a youth council, youth commission or advisory board in connection with local government workers and the area high school. Students may be interested in boards related to parks, libraries, human services or the arts. Youth council members usually have shorter terms than adult members and, depending on the position they hold, they may or may not have full voting rights and responsibilities. Students' votes usually don't count toward a quorum, and students usually don't participate in executive sessions.

Local governments may also provide opportunities for paid or unpaid internships or volunteering where students can develop their knowledge and skills related to local government. It's clear that technology forms the bridge that covers the gap between local government and younger citizens.

Live video streaming for council meetings is cost-effective and efficient, as it substantially reduces the manual workload. There couldn't be a more strategic time for local governments to invest in livestreaming video as a means to engage all citizens, including the younger populations, in local government. While our economy is enjoying a slight upswing, the time to embrace technological enhancements is now. Investing funds in new technologies will set the cost-savings in motion, enabling local governments to ride out the tough times that a future recession may bring much more easily.

Younger citizens will be more inclined to accept invitations to participate in local government when they can see that government staff is interested in learning more from them about how to use technology and electronic solutions to bring local governments and communities closer together, as well as how young peoples' ideas can have a positive impact on local government efforts.