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Societal Changes and the Impact on Municipal Public Services

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Roger L. Kemp
May 17, 2016



Societal changes in Canada and the United States are having a dramatic impact on the types and the levels of municipal public services that are being provided to citizens. These services are provided by public officials to their citizens, the taxpayers that they serve and who pay for them. The impacts of these changes on a local government’s public services are highlighted below, including the evolving and changing types and levels.

  • More sophisticated computer hardware systems and software systems and applications.
  • Citizens’ increasingly acquire information about their city from its public website without having to visit city hall.
  • New technologies, such as Wi-Fi, GIS and GPS, are being used to improve the level of public services provided, as well as to enhance economic development in the community.
  • Online resources for citizens provides easier access to both their elected and appointed officials.
  • Influx of immigrant members creates new demands for public services.
  • Economic challenges have created a need for additional revenues for cities to provide public services.
  • Sophisticated video recording systems are used by local governments to videotape public meetings and to show them online.
  • Changing nature of families, with both parents frequently working full time, impacts municipal public services.
  • Aging U.S. population has expanded their demand for more senior citizen services. Most cities have a senior citizens center that provides these evolving public services.
  • Focus on school safety has led to requests for new school security and educational programs.
  • Municipal departments now have access to computer hardware and software programs that enhance the quality and types of the public services provided.
  • Increasingly 24/7 access to public service information is available for citizens. 

Impact on Public Services

These societal changes mentioned above have led to modifications of many existing municipal public services in cities throughout North America. In general, a typical local government’s modified services include:

  • More sophisticated municipal websites.
  • Elected officials, such as the mayor or city council members, now have an email address listed on their respective city’s website.
  • Public services are being adapted to serve and meet the needs of recent immigrant citizens.
  • Frequent adjustments to departmental user fees and charges are made to cover the costs of public services.
  • Increases in joint purchasing allow cities to purchase common products and services from their county, regional and state government websites.
  • Municipal user fees and charges can be paid online with a credit card.
  • Increased usage of Wi-Fi to enhance downtown economic development.

The other municipal public services that are provided by specific municipal departments include city clerk services, economic development services, educational services, financial services, fire services, health services, human resource services, information technology services, library services, parks and recreation services, planning and building services, police services and public works services. These services are also evolving and changing rapidly as a city’s population changes.

The Future

Public officials and local government employees have almost no control over the dynamics of their “working environment.” Societal factors that directly influence the types and levels of the public services that they provide include their political, economic, social and legal environments. The political environment includes the election of liberals, conservatives or some combination thereof, which may change over time. The economic environment, which they have little control over, includes hard times, good times and everything in between. The social environment includes the impact of an aging population, income levels, educational levels and unemployment rates on a community’s service levels. Lastly, the legal environment is primarily set by higher levels of government and their respective court systems.

The various levels of government in Canada and the United States are evolving. Their public services are being influenced and impacted by these societal changes. The levels of government must adapt to these changes so that they can modify the level and quality of public services in order to meet the needs, preferences and demands of their citizens.

Author: Roger L. Kemp, MPA, MBA, Ph.D., ICMA-CM, a career city manager, is a professional in residence in the department of public management at the University of New Haven, Connecticut and a distinguished adjunct professor at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California. Roger, a consultant and frequent speaker, can be reached via email at [email protected].

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One Response to Societal Changes and the Impact on Municipal Public Services

  1. Richard C. Wilson, Jr. Reply

    May 18, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    In addition to the pressures Dr. Kemp identifies, the federal government and the 50 states routinely act to reduce the financial well-being of local government in the vain hope this will improve their own.

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