September 14, 2020

Civic Intelligence for Business 101: Why businesses should monitor local policy change

By Taralinda Willis

In an effort to leverage technology to build more efficient businesses, many companies are embracing the field of business intelligence, which transforms data into “actionable insights that inform an organization’s strategic and tactical business decisions,” according to

Typically, business intelligence focuses on gathering information about the internal factors that influence a business’s success. It might take in data such as downtime in a manufacturing line, a sales team’s average call length, or the conversion rate of a website, presenting trends in a visual format so that analysts can identify opportunities to improve processes and outcomes. 

But many of the most important factors that determine your business’s success are completely outside your control—things like consumer confidence, weather, and the political environment, particularly at the local level.

Local politics has a huge influence on almost every business sector. Municipal governments set laws concerning tax rates, fees, parking, wages, single-use plastic, animal welfare, signage, disposal of waste, building safety—the list of potential areas for municipal regulation goes on and on. 

And yet, so many businesses operate in complete darkness about the local policy environment. They might skim the local newspapers, but they only get involved if a new local regulation that could harm their business is on the agenda for a vote at the city council. And at that point, it’s often too late to influence the outcome. 

Businesses that build a process for staying on top of local policy issues position themselves to seize more opportunities and prevent changes to local laws that could disrupt their operations. 

We call that process gathering civic intelligence. 

Civic intelligence refers to actionable insights about the way local politics is shaping the business environment. 

What does civic intelligence software do? 

Local governments function best when stakeholders are actively engaged in the legislative process. But keeping track of every proposed ordinance is hard enough to do when you only operate in one locality. As soon as your business grows large enough to operate in multiple municipalities, the burden of manually keeping up with city council agendas and committee meeting minutes can become overwhelming. 

Even if your team has a full-time government affairs person, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the rapidly changing local policy environment without the help of special civic intelligence tools and software.

Curate is the leading provider of civic intelligence software. 

Curate uses machine learning to monitor and analyze local government agendas and minutes to give customers an edge with clear, simple, and actionable civic intelligence. Curate empowers businesses to understand and engage with local politics at scale. 

There are a variety of tools that provide a great compliment to Curate’s functions, especially for organizations that are tracking legislation at the state and national level or looking to manage grassroots advocacy campaigns all over the country, including Quorum, FiscalNote, Salsa Labs, and NationBuilder.

Why is civic intelligence important? 

Civic intelligence can help you beat your competition when new business opportunities arise. It can help businesses plan ahead for changes in regulatory environments so they can pivot their business model without experiencing downtime. When municipalities propose changes to local ordinances that would cause your business’s operational costs to rise or that could completely disrupt your business model, civic intelligence helps you weigh in on the topic at the right time to influence the outcome of the decision. 

What are some civic intelligence examples? 

Civic intelligence comes in a variety of forms. City council meeting minutes are often full of comments and discussions about hot-button issues that indicate upcoming policy changes or business opportunities. Some examples:

  • The first mention in a city council meeting that an elected official wants to pass a ban on single-use plastic.
  • A discussion in a committee meeting about increasing limitations on stormwater runoff from new residential construction.
  • A city council agenda item for a vote on the local rules around short-term rentals.
  • A comment from a member of the public in the city council meeting minutes about the rapid growth of the population in a particular neighborhood, which could lead to a need for larger schools in the next five years.
  • A mention in a discussion about how neighboring cities are finding success in attracting businesses with a tax incentive program.

What can companies do with civic intelligence? 

When you find a juicy bit of intel in a city council agenda or minutes from a recent meeting, it’s time to spring into action. At a minimum, you might register to speak at the next meeting where the issue will be discussed. But to be even more proactive, you might need to set up a meeting with your local representative to share your opinion on a proposed ordinance. You might need to activate your professional network and give them the background information so that they can also contact their elected officials. If you have a government affairs team, they might launch a full-scale grassroots campaign to bring awareness of the issue to the public.

Some pieces of civic intelligence are signs of future business opportunities. Local government meeting minutes and agendas are full of leads businesses can use to grow.

Maybe you’re a construction company, and you notice a discussion about planning for a government facility expansion in the next budget cycle. Get ready to prepare a bid. 

Maybe you’re a clean energy consultant and you find a discussion about how a city wants to lower its carbon footprint within the next five years. Maybe you’re a restaurant supplier and you see a liquor license application for a new restaurant. These are all opportunities to make new connections that could lead to new accounts or projects for your business.

How does civic intelligence help businesses get ahead? 

Getting an early warning about upcoming policy change gives you time to weigh in on the change and potentially influence the outcome of a vote. But it also gives you time to prepare your business for the changing business environment. Whether you find exciting opportunities or worrisome policy trends, building a civic intelligence program will make sure your business is positioned to make the best of whatever comes. 

Ready to find out how civic intelligence software could help you grow your business and protect your business model? Schedule a discovery call to learn more about Curate’s local policy tracking tools.

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