Today, almost 70% of all Americans own a smart phone, and that number increases to about 80% when we look at those who are 49 years old and younger.

But more disconcerting is the fact that a growing number of mostly minority and low-income Americans, around 15%, depend either completely are almost solely on their smart phone for access to the internet.

And while we continue to more than double the amount of time we spend on our phones, it's mostly to play games, socialize, check mail and watch videos.

But the apps consumers use most often may eventually change, thanks to government and nonprofit agencies adopting both internal and public-facing mobile apps to provide easier, better and faster access to services and information. 

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While the barriers to developing custom mobile applications remain high and scaling custom app solutions is often difficult since most communities have unique workflow, software and database solutions, initiatives fueled by organizations like Living Cities and Bloomberg What Works Cities are helping cities share solutions among each other.

In fact, many of the agencies reaching out to our own team at APPCityLife are hoping to jumpstart their mobile strategy by duplicating one of the existing solutions on our civic tech platform and then customizing the app to meet the unique needs and workflow of their own community. 

Beyond the immediate value of a better mobile experience for their citizens, agencies are also reaping the benefits of data-driven decisions through the anonymized behavioral analytics of mobile their mobile users. 

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Here are six types of civic apps which can deliver immediate impact to communities:

  • Transit
  • 311
  • Forms
  • Public School
  • Food Bank
  • Culture

Why focus on these six? Each make it possible for citizens to take control of more decisions and interactions within their community. Whether it is through accessing real time transit information or reporting a missed trash collection through a 311 app, or perhaps enjoying a more interactive experience at local museums, aquariums, and zoos, mobile apps can shift control over the access to information and services from agency to citizen. 

Similarly, when cities which develop internal apps to seamlessly conduct inspections and submit reports from the field or the office can democratize access to services for those who are solely dependent on mobile by offering a public-facing version of the app where citizens can access information and submit applications for licenses, permits or join waiting lists for things like youth summer programs - and they can do so 24 hours a day, not just during the agency's limited office hours which may be prohibitive to work schedules or access to public transit.

Due to the growing number of smart phone users in the bottom economic sector, mobile access to food bank and other community service providers results in faster, easier access to information about services, hours, and locations. But more importantly, food banks can combat local hunger by sending push notifications through the app to alert users of perishable, time-sensitive donations like dairy, fruits and vegetables. When more fresh fruits and vegetables end up on families' tables instead of trash cans, that not only reduces food waste but results in more expendable income for families living in poverty.

When public schools only use their mobile app's push notifications to alert the community about emergencies such as delays, closures and lock downs, it becomes a trusted, primary messaging tool which can alleviate worry for parents and allow administrators to better manage communication during emerging situations. But limited budgets make it difficult or impossible to allocate thousands of dollars to develop a mobile app from popular providers. A few free options exist from companies like Jostens.

Does your city offer these six types of apps, or is there a unique app your community uses that you especially like? You can share them in the comments or contact me on Twitter. I am always excited to learn how cities are connecting with people.