In recent elections, a general theme is developing that could dramatically impact how technology is implemented and managed in government. Voters have been rejecting bonds for capital investments. It’s clear that everyone is tightening their belts during these economic times, and it seems that people are paying close attention to what they get for their investment. Gone are the days when voters simply supplied funds to government agencies and trusted that the investments were being spent on activities that support their best interests. Where does that leave government and community leaders? More thorough planning and a clear vision that clearly outlines the merits of any particular project are required. As a result, government agencies must partner with citizens earlier to ensure the community’s strategic objectives are understood and supported.
As an example, a bond election called for by a local school board requested $75 million to build infrastructure – such as classrooms, athletic complexes and technology – necessary to accommodate an expected 50% increase in enrollment over the next 10 years. The voters rejected the bond, which left the local school board scrambling for solutions to manage the dramatic growth, as well as maintain academic and sports standards.
In this case, the local school board is constitutionally restricted from raising funds through any sales tax increase, and has a limited commercial sales tax base. In order to meet the educational needs of these students, the school board must now start the process over and engage the community to agree on their strategic objectives and how they will be funded. Like any business organization, the community must define priorities and objectives. Should sports activities be funded or just academic pursuits? What are the goals for the academics program?
Government is generally considered a service provider for all, but as voters continue to scrutinize projects and eliminate funding sources, a society characterized by unbounded resources may be required to rethink their expectations of services offered by government. These challenges open the door to modern 21st Century information technology to help bridge the gap. As governments begin to embrace information delivery technologies such as video streaming, videoconferencing, and citizen self-service portals, the need to build expensive brick and mortar structures will diminish. Ultimately, this divergence between funding and expectations will demand ongoing collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking between citizens and government decision-makers.