Reporting for Jury Duty: How SMS is Driving Civic Engagement

4 minute read

Upland Admin

A common argument is that governments and their large bureaucracies are notoriously slow to innovate. But organizations across the country are turning this notion on its head by using SMS messaging to boost civic engagement.

The Macomb County Courthouse in Mount Clemens, Michigan recently began to use text messages to remind citizens about jury duty. The text messages provide real-time updates and even include a link for prospective jurors to receive a free Uber ride.

Macomb is serving as model for how traditional organizations can innovate. What it is doing with SMS shows that any company can use the technology to drive engagement and capture its audience’s attention.

Macomb County Innovates Civic Engagement with SMS
Macomb County, Michigan recently received six good government awards for its innovative use of technology. The county has used SMS in several ways, mostly notable during its election process, where it allowed candidates to sign up for automatic text messages that remind them of election dates and filing deadlines.

But even more exciting is how the county has leveraged text messaging to improve jury duty. When prospective jurors get a notice by mail, it’s easy for it to get buried — and it’s even easier for them to forget about jury duty altogether. Macomb’s use of text messaging has changed this.

Trial Program for Jury Participation
Macomb County ran a six-month trial program to send text message reminders to prospective jurors. The jurors got a daily text for three days before their reporting date and a final text on the morning of this date. The text message also included a link offering them a free Uber ride worth up to $20. Not only did this make it easy for jurors to remember their appointment, it also ensured they had an easy way to get to the courthouse.

The results proved the effectiveness of SMS. After six months, the percentage of jurors who actually appeared for their appointments almost doubled from 24.3% to 43.5%.

The court also used text messages to communicate with jurors mid-trial, replacing the costly pagers it previously had used. The great thing about SMS in this situation is its efficiency: the court could send messages to all jurors on a case or a personalized communication to particular jurors, allowing it to provide real-time updates on room locations and other relevant information.

Emergency Help with Text Messaging
But Macomb County hasn’t stopped there. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office recently announced that it can now take 911 requests via text message. This is particularly useful for people with disabilities and for people who need to place an emergency call while remaining silent.

However, Macomb isn’t the only government entity using text messaging. From Los Angeles to New York City, governments across the country are beginning to embrace text messaging to improve civic engagement.

The California Department of Public Health created a text message flu shot locator as part of an anti-H1N1 vaccination campaign. This helped people find their nearest vaccination center. As a result, 33% of recipients got their shot at the suggested location, while another 40% planned to do so.

The New York City Department of Health launched a text message support program for smokers trying to quit. The program included tips on quitting and was geared towards individuals’ projected quit dates. After six weeks, 53% of heavy smokers quit, compared with 25% in the control group, who did not receive the text messages.

The New York City Human Resources Administration launched an opt-in TXT-2-Work campaign to connect low-income job seekers with employment opportunities. Participants get a text message as soon as a job is available and can apply the same day. The program has 32,000 subscribers and a recent survey showed that 11% of people got interviews via the program and half of those subsequently got jobs.

The real-time nature of SMS allows government organizations and large entities to communicate with their intended audience in a way they never have before. It’s making these organizations more efficient, helping residents get the services they need and allowing them to fulfill their role as citizens. Macomb County, New York City and the state of California show that SMS could be a game-changing tool for civic engagement. And that’s beneficial not just for their residents, but for society as a whole.

To start a text messaging based civic engagement programs today, contact us.

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