Published: Oct 29, 2022
Toronto, Ontario

The Role of Digital Display Technology in Promoting Municipal-Civilian Engagement

The Role of Digital Display Technology in Promoting Municipal-Civilian Engagement

The Issue

Civilian engagement, or lack thereof, is an area of concern at all levels of government. Whether the demographic in question is engaged on a national level, a regional level, or a local one, civilian engagement is important for enhanced quality of life, population satisfaction, and general prosperity within an individual or aggregated communities. 

Civilian engagement can be classified in many ways but for the purposes of present consideration, we will classify it in two ways. Essential and complimentary. Essential civilian engagement is rooted in services which play unavoidable roles in people’s lives. If you need to drive a vehicle regularly, you need to engage some authority or another for a license. If you need to maintain a residency abroad, you may need to file regular paperwork with a local, municipal authority, or a centralised government institution, or both. If you want to build a house or make major modifications you might need various permits from the city in which your land is located. And so on and so forth.

Complementary civilian engagement on the other hand is civilian engagement you can go your whole life avoiding, if you really want to. Which some people actually do. Municipal elections, satisfaction surveys with local politicians’ decisions, submission of official complaints, visiting government-run locations for recreational or educational purposes like a city museum or local park; asking how to find that famous monument or taking that famous tour of the artifact room. There are many more examples but essentially, this is what complementary civilian engagement boils down to. Engagement you can avoid.

In the Municipal context, improving people’s experience for both Essential and Complementary civilian engagement is important for prosperity. This might seem counterintuitive for Essential civilian engagement but it’s true. On one hand, negative experiences with Essential civilian engagement are a key contributing factor to the absence of Complementary engagement from many people, and on the other hand, if experiences with Essential civilian engagement become too negative in a municipality, this municipality might face an exodus that favours neighbouring municipalities if the economic conditions permit. 

Negative experiences in civilian engagements include prolonged waiting times, long standing lines, expensive processing fees, excessive form-filling, putting the onus of collecting multiple official approvals on the civilian and confusing the civilian with extensive paperwork. After that, municipal residents become less than willing to rate a new transportation terminal, take a survey about how negatively the roadwork is affecting their commute to work, or let the municipal council know that one more property tax hike will make them leave to another municipality with lower property taxes and an easier commute to work. In a word, they become “disengaged.” Then alienated.


The entire field of automated and digitized services was developed precisely to make all transactions and interactions at least a less negative (if not positive) experience for human users. Civilian engagement is no different. One of the most important developments in the field of digitized services is the use of self-service kiosks.

Self-service kiosks have a number of purposes. You can use a self-ordering kiosk to order a municipal government paper, pay your processing fee on the spot, and be done. You can use an information kiosk to identify your areas of interest in a large city park, read what you’ll find in each section, and navigate your way there without aimlessly wandering and getting lost if you’d like to visit one without expending too much time and energy. 

Self-service kiosks, whether used commercially, municipally, nationally or by an NGO all have a primary aim: Increasing the engagement of their target demographics. As such, they are engineered to ameliorate or eliminate much of the negative experiences associated with civilian engagement, like the ones mentioned above.

Using a self-service kiosk in city hall, you can order any city papers associated with your house or the plot of land it’s on, receives a text when it’s ready, and go pick it up from the city clerk’s office without standing one second in line, or sitting for a long time in a boring waiting area, whether to place your order or to pick up your papers. In fact, if you have two seconds, you could also rate your city hall experience out of 10 with one push on the touchscreen in front of you. Or share your opinion of the mayor’s latest work initiative. Interactive self-service stations and self-ordering kiosks also save considerable amounts of money, so your processing fees could well be reduced.

Available Examples

There are multiple municipalities in North America, Europe, and Australasia which deployed interactive displays of various types, and self-serve, self-ordering kiosks, advanced vending machines, and complete micro-markets are the norm in many parts of East Asia, both municipally and commercially. The City of Rochester in NY State in the US has digital display technology for a city park. The Holocaust Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse in the City of Columbus also utilizes digital display technology. but the most comprehensive use of self-serve interactive displays on the municipal level can actually be found in the United Arab Emirates.

This is because in most cases, each emirate’s authorities function as a combination of municipal, regional, provincial, state, and city government. So essentially, many of the papers you’d normally request from regional or federal authorities in other countries can be ordered on the municipal level in the UAE, even if those papers come to a single Emirate through the UAE’s central government. As far as the civilian is concerned, these federal papers are often delivered to him via the municipal government.

To put this into perspective, a resident of Dubai can order and receive his Dubai residence card at a self-help kiosk in the space of 14 minutes. That’s right. Waiting for the mail or picking it up later is not usually necessary. The same process applies to paying various fees, fines, and tickets. The process of obtaining a Dubai driving license is also comparable.

Municipal e-services have a long history in Dubai and have been surveyed for a long time as well which provides a wealth of data. A 2007 survey indicates that 48% of civilians used government e-services in Dubai because it saves them time, and another, separate 40% cited ease of use as their primary reason.

Over the years, with the development of better services and the improvement of survey methods (for example, ease of use and time-saving questions in surveys don’t always need to be mutually exclusive) have yielded even greater user satisfaction statistics with the use of digital display technology both in Dubai and worldwide.

Multiple reliable surveys for the use of digital display technology in several locations around the world now report user satisfaction numbers higher than 90%. There are of course also reliable surveys for the use of digital that report much lower user satisfaction percentages (lower than 60%) but these surveys are conducted in areas where the self-serve and interactive digital display kiosks and stations are largely outdated. Users report lagging issues, insensitive (sometimes inaccurate) touchscreens, a lack of updated content, and in general, not the kind of issues you have with newer, well-maintained self-ordering kiosks and other self-serve technology stations.

The key difference between survey areas seems to be the use of reliable providers or such technology, as well as diligent equipment maintenance and software updates, which are services available from some providers of interactive digital display technologies as well as providers of non-touch digital signage.

The Takeaway

There are many municipalities around the world who have been making excellent use of interactive digital display technology as well as non-interactive digital signage and it has significantly boosted their rates of civilian engagement and user satisfaction reports, which is an important factor in these municipalities’ harmonious function.

At the same time, there are still many more municipalities around the world who have not experimented with such solutions, despite the potential cost-saving in many cases, meaning the delay in experimentation with the concept is not for a lack of sufficient funds. While the research in this field is still relatively new, with the oldest research hardly two or three decades old, there are many promising indicators that digital display technology in general could be found to increase civilian engagement in the majority of the world’s municipalities.

Of course, in order to state this conclusively, more experimentation is in order. However, since most information indicates that digital display technology could save municipalities money, and in some cases even boost their revenue, the path appears to be open for further experiments to be carried out.


Want to learn about digital signage? How about self-serve kiosks or setting up your own video wall? Learn from one of our digital engagement experts about the latest in interactive display technologies and software.


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