Research Quick Take: A case study on the adoption of city management mobile apps for smart urban governance

Tallahassee is a national leader among mid-size cities in e-governance. With a young and well-educated population and a digitally progressive government, the city has made successful investments in information communication technology. Tang et al. (2021) view Tallahassee’s city management app, DigiTally, with its 6,000 regular monthly users, as a best-case scenario for a smart city initiative in a mid-size U.S. city.

Cities worldwide are beginning to use information communication technology and city management mobile apps, but the full potential of these tools has not been realized. Most apps in use, like Europe’s popular FixMyStreet, have a service request platform useful for power outages, potholes, broken streetlights, and tree removals. A greater opportunity exists, scholars say, for apps to engage citizens in dialog about the deeper and more abstract issues of local governance. However, researchers have not focused on barriers to the use of city management apps, or motivations for engaging with them. Tallahassee’s DigiTally system serves as an ideal case study in the context of a mid-sized US city.

The authors find that DigiTally has improved public service efficiency and customer satisfaction, but falls short of its transformative goals of being a social space where citizens can collaborate in designing city services. Many of the challenges DigiTally has faced are common in other cities.  The authors cite low awareness of the app despite the city’s marketing campaign, privacy and security concerns, and complaints that the app lacks enough user control. They observe that many citizens prefer social media for dialogue with the government and connecting with their community.

For now, traditional channels of civic engagement must remain important, including phone calls, emails, and town hall meetings. Citizens might adopt DigiTally more widely after a targeted marketing campaign and a program to increase the digital skills of technologically underserved populations in Tallahassee. The authors also mention specific ways in which the app itself could be enhanced. Despite unbounded future possibilities, adoption of city management apps remain incremental today.

Dr. Tian Tang is an assistant professor in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at FSU.

Dr. Jinghui Hou is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at FSU.

Dr. Daniel Fay is an Associate Professor in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University. 

Catherine Annis is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs at Syracuse University.

This post is a summary of Tang et al.’s (2021) recent piece, “A case study on the adoption of city management mobile apps for smart urban governance,” summarized by COSSPP blog researcher, Jesse Fried.

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