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7 Critical Drought Policy Challenges to Overcome

7 Critical Drought Mitigation Policy Challenges to Overcome

Much of California and its surrounding states are facing one of the most severe droughts in our nation’s history.

As a result, municipalities are taking a number of steps to limit water usage by citizens to ensure their supply doesn’t dry up within the next few months. For now, most mitigation measures include limiting how much citizens can water their lawns or plants and decreasing monthly water budgets.

Over the past few years, citizens have taken a visceral reaction to additional regulations. And thanks to the dominance of remote work, citizens are more than willing to pick up and leave when they feel like the government has overstepped its boundaries and trampled on perceived freedoms.

Water mitigation measures, in addition to being unpopular, are also difficult to communicate. Local governments are severely understaffed and lack the human capital needed to answer questions in a timely manner or communicate critical information as needed.

Here are seven pressing drought mitigation challenges local governments are struggling to overcome, and four tips for overcoming those challenges.

1. Staff is overwhelmed with inbound call volume

Local governments implementing drought-related measures face an enormous influx in calls from citizens at all hours of the day. In the current state, call center reps spend their entire day answering basic questions or asking how to find specific information. This makes it difficult to provide more strategic advice such as where to find water efficient appliances such as sprinklers, laundry machines, shower heads, etc., or other more complex questions. Hiring more staff is a potential solution to alleviating this problem, but it can get costly and doesn’t necessarily reduce the workload on local staff.

From the citizen’s perspective, this experience can be incredibly frustrating because they can have wait times over an hour and don’t get the opportunity to have all their questions answered. As a result, citizens feel neglected when it comes to getting their needs met and may be reluctant to stay in your community long term.

2. Information on your website is difficult to find

The best way to uncover navigation issues is when citizens are asking the same questions that you already cover on your site. When this occurs, it means that either citizens aren’t reading your site at all or they aren’t able to easily find information. Both problems reveal a broken process.

Citizens don’t want to scroll long web pages to find information or spend time navigating for the answer to a specific question. They want answers readily available as soon as their question arises with the same efficiency as they’d have shopping for their favorite retailer. Most websites in the public sector don’t perform well on a mobile device and certainly don’t have the budgets for an expansive website redesign. Even if an overhaul was the solution, it wouldn’t eliminate the desire some citizens have to receive information over email, social media or text.

3. Confusion over regulations

Like it or not, most citizens learn about regulations through word-of-mouth, which usually leads to more anger, confusion and a lost opportunity to explain the government’s narrative. When it comes to communicating new laws or regulations, governments are inherently slow at reaching all of their citizens quickly and effectively or at explaining the reasoning for it. Unless you work for a major city, the mayor doesn’t have an opportunity to call the media for a press conference so it takes a lot of effort to provide clear communication.

4. Water budgets are difficult to understand and track

Most citizens don’t read the details of their utility bills and don’t have an easy way to track their water usage. This can lead to accidental overages, which only lead to fines and more negative sentiment around new regulations. The worst thing a municipal water district can do is surprise homeowners with an unexpected notice. However, most utility companies make it difficult to track water usage or create resources that are technical and hard to understand.

5. Lack of citizen understanding with rebate programs

If you’re providing incentives for citizens to buy efficient sprinkler systems or replace their grass with artificial turf, this is another example where they rely on word-of-mouth rather than getting information from local government. Citizens often want to know how to submit their plan, how long it takes for the rebate to get approved and how much of the project cost is covered.

However, the company handling rebates is often separate from the local government itself and forces citizens to dig through that website to get relevant information. This only creates more friction in the process when citizens seek more simplicity. In addition, citizens often don’t get their rebates fulfilled because they miss details within the application process, and eventually blame the local government for not providing enough help.

6. Difficulty handling water rationing at scale

Implementing drought regulations will create a significant resource drain for the foreseeable future. Other than watching for water allocation budget violations, it’s difficult to know for sure when residents are watering their lawns more than once per week. Most cities are asking water districts to look for houses over-watering their lawns, run-off, or green grass.

Your citizens will naturally be skeptical about fines only impacting the lawns of the middle class while doing little to deter those who own multi-million dollar homes. Enforcing regulations in a fair and equitable manner requires an abundance of resources to uncover violations. And even if citizens are receiving citations, municipalities still need to hire extra resources to handle collections or install water restrictors fast enough to keep houses in violation within their water budget.

7. Lack of educational resources for improving water efficiency

Even the most understanding citizens are going to want clarification on how to use less water in their house. The problem is that officials need to spend so much time answering basic questions that they don’t have time to help citizens looking for help conserving water. This provides citizens with a dissatisfying experience and only makes conservation efforts more difficult.

4 Tips for Overcoming Current Business Process Challenges in the Public Sector

Here are four strategies municipalities and water districts can implement to overcome the challenges with implementing a drought policy while showing citizens a forward-thinking approach.

1. Invest in a chatbot solution

Chatbots provide a 24/7/365 solution to increased support with fewer resources required so citizens can get their questions answered at any time. This frees up your staff’s time so they can provide more personalized support. As a bonus, when citizens decide to call in, they aren’t waiting on hold and can reach a live person almost immediately.

AI chatbots for local governments provide a streamlined channel of communication so users can access important information wherever they are. Citizens can receive real-time support and receive quick responses so your city can provide better service in less time. Plus, you can gain insights into the topics your citizens are asking most about so you can take action immediately.

2. Make information easily accessible for all citizens

If you have the resources available, find a web developer who can help make information easy to find and quick to digest. Avoid long blocks of text and instead provide links to all relevant information from one menu.

In addition to making your site user friendly, consider the fact that citizens have a variety of needs from an accessibility standpoint and might struggle getting the information from your website. Generally, implementing WCAG (also known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is most inclusive to ensuring all citizens can get the information they need.

3. Use SMS to communicate important reminders

Citizens don’t want the government overstepping its boundaries and texting every day, but communicating important reminders can ensure citizens are compliant with the new regulations and answer any questions they have in the process. On average, citizens are more likely to prefer talking over text than going to a website or calling in regards to a specific question.

This ensures citizens don’t falls through the cracks and aren’t accidentally violating their new water budgets. SMS not only lets you keep all citizens in the loop, but allows them to communicate in a way most natural to them. This can include directing citizens to relevant resources for water conservation and links to the various rebate programs available to your city.

4. Dedicate resources towards live chat

Consider pulling resources together to offer live chat for your citizens. Instead of calling or emailing your staff, live chat makes it easy to step in when a bot doesn’t know the answer to a specific question while allowing citizens to get answers quickly without taking time out of their busy schedules. Most live chat platforms allow citizens to talk on the device of their choice so they can get help even if they’re not in front of a computer.

Providing clear and frequent citizen communication is of utmost importance in order to give local governments their best chance at drought mitigation compliance. Yet without a forward thinking approach, municipalities will fail to get their citizens on the same page and make it harder to maintain their trust. Governments that think of themselves as businesses and take a customer-service approach to policy decisions ultimately have the most to gain – even in times of crisis.

As state and local governments continue to navigate resource shortages (natural resources, financial resources, as well as personnel), leaders will need to invest in innovation that provides an advantage both for their constituents as well as their representatives. While digital communication channels such as live chat and AI chatbots represent just one such innovation, they represent a strong opportunity to make a big difference with a minimal lift.

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