It’s easy to get annoyed with your local government. It’s the level of government that most affects regular people on a daily basis. Things like potholes and property taxes, business licenses and zoning laws are all handled by local governments. Part of the problem is that municipalities haven’t done a great job of keeping up with how people communicate these days. A monthly newsletter sent in the mail just isn’t going to cut it, anymore. And that problem has come into even sharper relief since the pandemic. They needed a GovTech app that could make it easier to communicate. So the Town of Innisfil issued a challenge at a recent event.
The town asked the people and companies working in and around DMZ Innisfil to help solve a series of problems. One of those challenges was to create a portal to enable the town to communicate with residents digitally instead of relying on snail mail. That got Tristan Tsvetanov and Roy Katznelson thinking.
Still in University, the pair were intrigued at the idea of creating a communications platform for local government. One that was easy and useful. So they set to work on a software solution. One that was so compelling that they were awarded a town contract to bring the plan to life.
The result was Communicaty – a company with big plans for the future.
More About the Pair
Despite being in the same class, the two didn’t connect immediately. It took them a few meetings to realize they shared the same goal of building a company and not waiting to graduate. According to the pair, they enjoy working the traditional way – identifying problems and coming up with solutions that’d attract people. They got to be a part of the DMZ hackathon by pure luck.
“I was a part of the DMZ. Last summer, I spent some time in their base camp program, hence I still was on their email chain, and got an email about this DMZ hackathon,” explained Tristan.
Since they were free due to the pandemic, they looked at the opportunity, studied the issue, and started thinking of a GovTech app that could solve the problem.
The Innisfil Problem
Communication was the real issue. The town didn’t have a tool to get in touch with community members at once, which often delayed solutions and worsened things. The officials decided to make things right when a sewage backup issue started to get out of hand.
“The problem was affecting an area, but the officials didn’t know exactly which houses were affected,” explained the team.
They couldn’t wait to send letters to every house as it would have been too late. This made the town realize they needed something that offered ‘instant’ communication in a targeted region.
The Real Challenge
The real challenge wasn’t to come up with a tool but to create a solution that was easy to adapt. The software had to be simple and efficient. They decided to introduce some personalization to the design to help people connect and engage while adding customization options to avoid potential issues such as multiple alerts a day. It, however, wasn’t going to be that easy. The team had to study the town, its residents, and their problems to be able to create a customized solution. On the positive side, they were fully aware of the problem.
“In most cases, you build a product, you come up with an idea, and then you go try to find a customer. But in this case, the customer found us,” explained the duo.
The idea was to build a GovTech app with the ability to target people by location and replacing mail with a more reliable option like email, text message, or voice call.
And It Was On
The team used a minimalistic approach and created a system with two sides – the resident portal and the public communication portal. They had to work on the overall experience to ensure residents enjoyed the idea of interacting with the government.
This was one of the most important aspects of the designing phase since it is all about getting users to use it. The adoption rate for such technology is already very low in cities where governments are using polls and other such techniques to improve communication.
The Big Test
The Innisfil program is ready and the team is excited. They expect the system to go live in the next few weeks. The team agrees that real feedback comes when people get to use the tool. A presentation might not be enough to sell an idea or convince governments they need something. While the system is adding value to the community, one can’t be sure how beneficial it is once it has been used by the people it is designed for.
Good Things To Say
Both Roy and Tristan only have good things to say about the municipality. They believe that things wouldn’t have been this easy without the support of the locals. The project allowed them to see how governments work to make things right and what goes behind the scenes. Based on the response, the team may hire more people and approach other towns about introducing a similar GovTech app. It is going to be a slow movement since approaching more governments requires a good amount of research and planning but they hope they’ll be able to find more success in the future.
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