SALT LAKE CITY -- As the American public continues to grow tired of their elected officials, one Utah-based company has turned to the Internet to help constituents weigh in on issues affecting local and national governments, providing more transparency and an open government.
A large majority of Americans have expressed their disapproval of Congress, with a recent Gallup Poll giving the 111th Congress an average 25 percent approval rating over 2009 and 2010. Even in state and local governments, Americans want their elected officials to listen to their concerns.
With congressional approval rates hovering at such low percentages, the Utah County based Icount has developed a new web application called Interactive Utility, which connects everyday citizens to their elected representatives, helping constituents weigh in on the topics most important to them and their community.
The political online community is designed to empower citizens with a voice in government by granting validated constituents a place to express their opinions in a meaningful way, letting elected officials know public sentiment. Interactive Utility also provides citizens a place to enter their comments in a city or county public record, in addition to participating in online discussions, polls and a place to sign up for a SMS emergency notification service.
Icount CEO Troy Bingham said he created Interactive Utility because he “felt like (his) voice was discounted to a certain extent” when trying to communicate with elected officials. He said he wanted “confidence that (his) elected officials were receiving” his messages, without being overlooked and his opinion not valued.
And with representatives constantly flooded with calls, letters and emails from their constituents, as well as constituents from other districts, it is difficult for every citizen to be heard. Icount simplifies and streamlines the process by informing representatives that an incoming message is from a validated member of their district, making it more likely the message will be seen and heard.
As a free service to its users, Icount asks citizens to verify their voting information, which is compliant with public record requirements, to validate the user and pair them with their elected officials on the city, state and national level. Once signed up, citizens are provided several tools to ensure that their voice is heard, including an opportunity to weigh in on their local city meetings, where comments can be expressed online prior to the meeting and read into the public record.
Additional tools available include an aggregated social feed, showing recent issues addressed by the users representatives, adding the lawmakers’ Facebook and Twitter feed, if available. Citizens can also connect with other users of Interactive Utility, joining groups and networks to improve their influence in government.
Elected officials are provided with similar tools to connect with their constituents, knowing that they are communicating with verified individuals in their districts, and not citizens from another district. Users are required to use their given name instead of an anonymous screen name, providing more accountability on the users part, without the mask of ambiguity.
“Similiar to other services provided by local cities, Icount is positioned as the online utility that connects cities and their residents in a meaningful way,” Bingham said. “Interactive Utility is a great way for city and county governments to gain feedback and invite participation quickly and effectively from constituents.”
Interactive Utility is a great way for city and county governments to gain feedback and invite participation quickly and effectively from constituents.
But Icount is not just for citizens looking for a soundboard to express their opinions; it is a utility for cities, counties and states to learn about the issues that are most pressing for the citizens residing in the area. Icount provides a resource where iframes are embedded into existing websites, such as a city’s homepage, to increase citizen participation.
“Interactive Utility also enables polling and online discussions on important issues directly from existing websites,” Bingham said. “Icount developed the Interactive Utility to help local cities to improve existing websites by adding very dynamic and interactive content to engage with and collect real-time feedback and information from constituents.”
Starting with a trial run in the city of Herriman last December, Icount became a resource for Herriman citizens to connect with their elected officials. Today, approximately 10 percent of Herriman residents have used Icount to interact with Herriman city officials.
“During the Machine Hun Fire, we had great success communicating with our citizens using social media tools,” said Herriman City Public Information Officer Nicole Martin. “As a continuation of this progressive communication approach, Icount will be an additional online tool to invite residents to connect with their government. Knowing we all have busy lives, Herriman City is committed to engaging our residents using a variety of communication methods that are concise, timely and convenient.”
Other cities around the state of Utah have utilized or plan to utilize the Icount web application, including West Jordan, Cottonwood Heights, Eagle Mountain and even Jordan School District.
“The City of West Jordan is excited to use the Icount Interactive Utility on our website,” said West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson. “It’s an easy was for our residents to stay informed and voice their opinion. As elected officials, we value the opinions of our constituents. By using Icount, we’re making it easier for residents to be involved, which in turn makes for better government.”
As part of their initiative for a more transparent government, Icount looks to expand the web-based utility to other states, with California being its next target. If successful, Icount will provide another option to everyday citizens looking to connect with their elected officials and have an impact on how the country, whether on the local or national level, is run.
To learn more about Icount or to sign up for its Interactive Utility, visit icount.com.