How savvy municipalities are meeting Millennials where they are (and catching some Zs in the process)

“People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)”

Released 50+ years ago, the song “My Generation” by the British rock band the Who was an anthem to the youthful angst of a burgeoning class of Boomers who, at the time, couldn’t envision getting old, let alone retiring. Like it or not, it happens to most of us. And, as they say, “it beats the alternative.”

In fact, at this very moment, approximately 40 percent of the municipal workforce is within 5 years of retirement. That means many local governments, like businesses in the private sector, need to brace for what’s sure to be a seismic generational shift. And, the most savvy municipalities are getting a head start by meeting “Y” Generation (AKA: millennials) where they are and catching some Zs in the process.

According to the Pew Research Center, anyone born between 1981 and 1996 is considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward is part of Generation Z (the oldest of whom turn 22 this year). While there are myriad social, political, and economic factors that distinguish Boomers and Gen Xers from their Y and Z brethren, technology has to be among the biggest differentiators.

Consider this: the “World Wide Web” only became publicly available on August 6, 1991 — a fact that positions the birth of the Internet as a decidedly Millennial event. Generation Y literally came of age alongside the Internet, spending most of their years — formative and otherwise — online. It only makes sense then, that if you want to engage Millennials you need to meet them where they live (in cyberspace). And, that’s a reality that many civic leaders across the country are starting to embrace.

At ClearGov, we talk to local officials all day every day and we sometimes hear complaints that young Americans aren’t as politically engaged or civic-minded as previous generations. We couldn’t disagree more, and a recent survey by GenForward and NBC News also begs to differ. The poll shows that Millennials are not only committed to affecting change, they’re prepared to work for it. Six in 10 think they have the skills and knowledge necessary to participate in politics. And 63 percent think that by participating, they can make a difference.

So, where’s the disconnect? The short answer is that it’s online. Looking for Millennials at a town meeting is like looking for goldfish in a sandbox: it’s not their thing. They grew up on the Internet, they expect information to be online and at their fingertips. And, frankly, they’re suspicious if it’s not.

So, where’s the disconnect? The short answer is that it’s online. Looking for Millennials at a town meeting is like looking for goldfish in a sandbox: it’s not their thing. They grew up on the Internet, they expect information to be online and at their fingertips. And, frankly, they’re suspicious if it’s not.

Meanwhile, their Gen Z siblings (and offspring!) grew up clutching an iPhone in their tiny little hands. If you really want to have a meaningful exchange with anyone born in the last three decades or so, you need to do it on the small screen (a laptop, an iPad, or a mobile device).

Millennials are accustomed to change and they want to be part of the solution. You just have to give them ways to get involved and invite them to join the conversation. Try this:

  • Live-stream your town meetings on Facebook.
  • Post your local budget in a readable format, one that’s not only accessible on a cell phone, but decipherable.
  • Pitch capital improvements on social media and then drive young residents to online project pageswhere they can get more details and subscribe to receive automatic updates.

Today, forward-thinking civic leaders are tasked with governing in a dynamic and hyperconnected world that has no precedent. But, there are plenty of tools out there to help local officials navigate these uncharted waters and reach out to their younger constituents who are genuinely interested in how local government works and may actually want to play an active role.

Turnkey platforms like ClearGov, for example, make it easy for municipalities to share demographics, financials, project data, and more in an interactive online format that’s accessible and easy for everyone — from Boomers to Gens X, Y, and Z  — to understand. You can get started by claiming your free profile here.

Meanwhile, the sooner you connect with “Y” Generation the better. The Millennial Action Project, a nonpartisan group that supports young people in politics, says that more than 800 millennials ran for state legislative seats in 2018. More than a third, approximately 275, won. If you’re not actively building your online presence, you’re missing out on a tremendous pool of talent that’s eager to be engaged.  Plus, they’re the only ones who can help you fix that weird thing that keeps happening with your cell phone. 🙂

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