Local government disregards Gen Z at its own peril

Research finds Gen Z are the most engaged with local government – beating Boomers, Millennials and Gen Xers – but this generation wants better digital tools so their voices and feedback are heard, writes Peter Nelson.

Peter Nelson

Gen Z has to live with a number of assumptions about what makes them tick: that they’re universally tech-savvy, all aspire to be influencers and aren’t concerned with local issues.

But as many Gen Zs themselves will tell you, assumptions are often flawed.

A recent survey* of 2,000 homeowners, commissioned by Datacom to better understand how connected Australians feel to their local government, bears this out.

There’s an assumption that connecting with local councils is primarily a Boomers’ game, however the research found Gen Z was actually the most connected; 66% of that cohort felt engaged with their local council versus 58% of Millennials, 47% of Gen X and 50% of Boomers.

Additionally, almost two-thirds (65%) of Gen Z were aware of the full range of services provided by their council, compared with only half of Millennials, 55% of Gen X and 58% of Boomers.

Gen Z, Millenials lead call for digital government

But while the research countered the assumption that Gen Z doesn’t care, it did highlight another disconnect: that when it comes to local issues, they often don’t feel they have a voice. Less than half (49%) reported they felt heard by their council or that their feedback was valued.

It’s then perhaps unsurprising that Gen Z and Millennials led the way in calling for digital-first government channels that facilitate two-way conversations (66% and 68% respectively). More specifically, a massive three-quarters of each of these groups said they’d use an app for this if available.

Datacom works with 117 councils across Australia, and from those working in the sector we hear a strong desire to effectively engage with all constituents through a range of channels.

However, there’s often nervousness about how to reach younger generations, who predominantly communicate through digital channels and in ways different to prior generations.

So with a genuine desire from councils to communicate effectively with younger people and demand from Gen Z to be better heard, what opportunities exist for improvement?

Rubbish and recycling

There are many. Let’s look at a simple council issue like rubbish and recycling collection.

The research identified that Gen Zs were most likely to forget to put out their bins, but there are now highly effective apps on the market to help residents keep tabs on which bins to put out on what days.

Digital platforms have the power to create better, more seamless two-way conversations between local governments and their constituents.

The technology allows residents to select locations of specific interest to them, so they only receive information related to their relevant locations. While that’s helpful for putting out the right bin on the right day, we’ve seen this functionality really come into its own, for example, when communicating crucial information about incidents of flooding during extreme weather events.

Apps can offer a great way to communicate with younger generations, but they must be supported by effective back-end systems.

Mobile first digital experiences

Whether they’re making bank transactions, booking airline tickets or posting on social media, Gen Zs expect great mobile-first digital experiences that allow them to transact and communicate their needs. An app might offer a simple interface through which users can do this but must be driven by powerful technology solutions to deliver.

Let’s take another simple task a resident might want to undertake: reporting graffiti.

Rather than dialling a call centre, a resident could simply send a photo of it via their council app. A great customer request management system, fed by this information, could allow customer service staff to quickly and accurately report the (geotagged) location of the graffiti and assign the removal job to field staff. And when the job is done, this could automatically be reported back to the resident, closing the two-way communication loop (and increasing staff productivity and satisfaction in the process).

There is growing demand for these kinds of ‘frictionless experiences’. As well as powering engagement mobile apps can give residents the ability to create their own online portal where they can view all their interactions with council in one place – allowing them to track anything from rates, to building consents to dog registration via a ‘single window’.

Ultimately, we’re all looking for opportunities to make our lives easier and more productive, but we also want to feel engaged and heard in our communities in the process – and that’s true regardless of our age or stage in life (or the generational group we’re in).

*Independent consumer research agency Agency,conducted an online AntennaPoll survey of n=2000 Australian ratepayers, evenly split n=400 across the five mainland states. The survey was conducted from 9–15 June 2023. The survey data collection was national, and respondents were sourced using an accredited online research access panel. Data was weighted for representation against the 2021 Australian census.

Peter Nelson is Director of Local Government at Datacom.

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One thought on “Local government disregards Gen Z at its own peril

  1. Hi Peter I am sure you are correct in many instances and lot of it truly depends on the monetary and human resources can allocate to the digital world at this time Think small rural and regional municipalities where the uptake has to occur over a number of years.
    My experience is that many metro councils in particular are leading the field in digital uptake and the use of digital tools. Cardinia Shire Council in Victoria was the leader of the pack in Australia having gone paperless in 2017/2018.

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