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UALR study gives tips on how to use modern technology to better communicate with citizens

Taping a handwritten note on the doors of City Hall or having a policeman bellow out an announcement on a bullhorn driving through neighborhoods aren’t apparently the best ways for North Little Rock city leaders to get their message out to their citizens.

In December, the Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock issued a report to the city of North Little Rock telling leaders better ways to communicate with the public.

The 12-member program team updated city officials on the best ways to use modern social media venues to better connect with the public.

“The city of North Little Rock seeks to create a comprehensive communication strategy that includes: community participation, advanced technology, social media, and standard use policies,” according to the study. “To advance participation, the city of North Little Rock must bridge gaps between government officials and the public; through new technologies, the city can open new pathways to connect to citizens.”

Technologies suggested by the study included Internet, text messaging and mobile applications.

“The use of these new technologies — Internet, text messaging and mobile applications — enhances the City of North Little Rock’s ability to provide information and services, and potentially reach those previously unreached,” the study states. “Social media platforms can be used to communicate information to citizens.”

The study adds, “By creating standard use policies, the city of North Little Rock can govern employee use and conduct, standard responses, record retention and disclosure issues.”

The purpose of the report is to provide direction to the city based on research of participation and engage practices used by other cities.

The project team offered several ideas for considerations including:

• Utilize technology to increase communication;

• Increase the use of the city’s website;

• Develop a social media strategy;

• Use text messaging for emergencies;

• Propose and plan for using mobile applications to increase participation;

• Develop and implement standard use policies.

UALR reported that governments across the country are engaging in technology in an attempt to bridge the gap between public officials and citizens. Information provided by the Pew Research Center earlier this year finds that if citizens feel they can impact their community they are more likely to participate and be satisfied with services their city provides.

New technology is enabling municipalities to communicate directly with its citizens.

However, just because it is wise to use newer technologies municipalities need to remember using older-style communication methods, the study adds.

“The city must consider the digital divide,” according to the report. “The ‘digital divide’ is the separation between the information technologies ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ — those who have affordable, reliable constant access to high speed Internet and smartphone devices and those who are not able to afford access.”

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