Can local government leverage artificial intelligence?January 31, 2023
A Strategy for What’s NextJune 1, 2023
By: Ralph Nikischer
If you ever have a few hours to spare, check out the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. It contains snapshots of websites dating back to 1996. In this Perspective, I use the tool to look back on early municipal websites to help make a prediction about where they are headed in the future.
Early municipal websites, like the rest of the 1990’s internet, were limited in the use of graphics. As internet speeds improved in the 2000’s, websites were updated with complimentary graphics and community branding. Today, municipal websites use graphics and videos to give the viewer an emotional connection to the community. See the evolution of the Village of Arington Height’s website with screen captures from 1998, 2003, and 2023.
Published content on early municipal websites was not much different than what is found today. Communities have long used their website to highlight the services and amenities of the community. A major difference from early websites to today is how information is organized. Early websites were inconsistent in the way information was structured. See a couple of examples from 1998:
Today, information is organized more consistently across municipalities. Not every municipality is the same, but you will typically find content headers around government, residents, business, and services.
Early municipal websites were more information focused and did not contain many features. A couple early features were employment opportunities and application forms. These early features required the user to print off the form, complete, and return to the municipality by mail or in person. Today, municipal websites contain a variety of features that enable the public to obtain a few services online. Common examples include permit applications, bill payment, and requests for service.
Municipal websites have evolved a great deal since the 1990’s. Modern websites are designed for aesthetics, are consistently organized, and contain features that provide services online. What more could a community’s website offer?
Over time, the design of municipal websites has trended to be more graphical. I believe this enables a community to better connect with the public because images and videos do this on an emotional level. This trend will continue and leverage new technologies along the way. I expect as immersive technology like the metaverse grows in popularity, communities will enter this technology to create local experiences that emotionally connect with residents.
I don’t expect content to shift dramatically on future municipal websites. These websites contain a lot of content because local government performs such a wide variety of services. In the future, I anticipate a change in the way communities deliver content. We’ve already seen this transition with the use of social media to reinforce things that are published on community websites. I expect local government will eventually discover tools used by the marketing industry to display relative content based on what a user is seeking. For example, it is no accident that after you search for your vacation destination, advertisements for that place follow you around the internet. Local government can use these analytics and tools to help serve content to the right person.
The feature of the not-so-distant future will be interactive artificial intelligence like a chat bot that will be able to provide customer service 24/7. This technology exists but has not been widely adopted to date. Imagine how many questions could be answered, reducing staff time, if an artificial intelligence device learns a community’s ordinance, codes, contracts, etc. I tested the generic ChatGPT in another post to explore potential use in the future.
We cannot predict the future with any degree of certainty, but one guarantee can be made. It will require local government innovators to see through and take a few risks to create the future.