The 2023 State of Local Government: Key Findings from Our Annual Survey
How are public sector leaders and teams doing right now? What are the biggest challenges they face, and how do they plan to tackle them?
For the third year in a row, we conducted our annual survey of local government employees across leadership, finance, permitting, procurement, and IT—and now we’re ready to share the findings.
The survey is meant to act as a barometer, surfacing current problems, successes, and how employees view themselves and their work.
But the survey is also meant to look beyond the current moment, sharing insights into where we might be going in the near future and the work those in local government are doing right now to get us there. It serves as an opportunity for those in the public sector, like you, to get ahead of the curve.
(Hang with us as we highlight a few key findings below, but you can download the full report here.)
Local Government’s Perfect Storm
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for local governments to move their work online to support new social distancing requirements.
According to our survey at the time, many public sector agencies were already going through this transition. But now they needed to do it at a rapid pace, and not just for convenience, but so they could operate at all.
The combination of a sudden need to move online, existing cybersecurity threats related to vulnerable legacy systems, and the infusion of huge amounts of funds from ARPA and the CARES Act made for a perfect storm among local governments.
At the same time, the “silver tsunami” of retirement was steadily impacting work in local government, with thousands of public employees from the Baby Boomer generation leaving the public sector and taking decades of institutional knowledge with them.
The storm created by the confluence of all these factors is still churning within our public sector agencies, impacting the work they do and shaping their futures.
But despite these struggles, we see survey respondents this year feeling optimistic and focused when it comes to how they can overcome challenges and continue making progress in serving their communities.
Who Are Our Survey Respondents?
Before we share key insights from the survey, it’s important to highlight who participated.
Here is an overview:
Types of Government Work
- 592 public sector agencies participated in the survey
- Job titles of those surveyed include leadership, finance, IT, procurement, and development
Population and Budget
- 36% of the public sector agencies that responded to the survey serve a population of over 100,000
- 43% of the public sector agencies that responded have a budget of over $100 million
Three Key Findings from the 2023 State of Local Government Survey
1. Populations Growing, Staff Sizes Staying the Same
One of the biggest takeaways from the survey is a trend of rising populations yet stagnant—or shrinking—staff sizes.
- Growing population sizes: 88% of respondents report that the population has grown in their jurisdiction in the last five years.
- Stagnant staff sizes: 66% of respondents report that their teams have not grown in the last two-three years.
In related data, 49% of respondents saw attracting and retaining talent as the greatest area of improvement and 61% say hiring challenges are an obstacle they face.
Despite these staffing challenges, local government leaders are finding creative ways to meet the demands that come with growth and staff shortages in their communities. Digital tools like OpenGov’s cloud software have proved useful in making up the staff shortfall, allowing local governments to provide even more information and access to residents, while reducing manual workloads.
A striking data point illustrating this positive trend is the fact that 75% of respondents report an increase in resident engagement in the last year—a significant majority, especially when you consider the growth in population as staff sizes remain stagnant.
2. Tech Investments Are Paying Off
It’s no secret that local governments are making the transition from manual, paper processes to digital ones.
But how much progress is actually being made in tech adoption?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Data from the survey indicates steady progress across several key areas when it comes to the adoption of digital tools. And, much more importantly, public sector employees aren’t just adopting these tools—they’re seeing concrete benefits from them.
Benefits from tech investments revealed by the survey:
- 29% of respondents report performing too much manual work this year—down from 34% last year.
- 85% of respondents have seen an increase in resident engagement technology—up from 66% last year.
- 54% of respondents report that someone else could perform their work during a two-week absence—up from 38% last year.
The last data point deserves further explanation. While the adoption of new technology can lead to fears that people might lose their jobs, the reality is that it almost always helps people do their jobs better (and can even lead to promotions in some instances).
In many public sector positions, manual legacy processes can contribute to a scenario in which only one person knows how to do a given job. If that person must suddenly be absent, the work they do stops until they return. Not to mention, manual work fills days that could be spent focused on strategic tasks.
Digital tools are helping fix these types of situations, allowing people to document their workflows and share them with others, and making their work more collaborative and more impactful across their entire department.
3. Solicitations Are a Big Pain Point
Despite the growing adoption of new technology, procurement is still an area where manual processes present a major pain point for many in local government, both in and out of the procurement department.
Solicitation is the area where the pain is felt most acutely:
- 41% of respondents report that solicitation development is the most challenging stage of the procurement process.
- 39% of other departments are only somewhat or not at all satisfied with the procurement process.
- 1 in 5 local governments still require suppliers to come to offices or mail in hard copies.
As usual, the pain is often felt in terms of delays in the purchasing process:
- 35% of respondents report an average time of 5-15 days from purchase request to solicitation.
- 38% of respondents report an average time of 45 days or more.
Procurement is another area where software can help. OpenGov Procurement allows procurement professionals in local governments to automate the entire process, streamlining solicitation development and providing tools for collaboration and proactive contract management.
Get the Full Survey Results
The results we’ve covered here are just a few key data points from the full 2023 State of Local Government Survey.