It’s no secret that apps have changed the way we live by making education, job hunting, entertainment, transportation, and day to day conveniences easier and more accessible than ever. For my generation, which has grown up with this ease of access our whole lives, accessibility is more than just a convenience — it’s an assumption. If it is not easy to use, it is not speaking our language.

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With this ever-evolving demand for accessibility, we also need tools for civic engagement that speak our language. If we really want to get people involved in government — and sustain their involvement beyond election season — we need easy, accessible, digital tools that make it easy to register to vote, submit testimony, get involved in advocacy, and weigh in on the decisions impacting their lives in the place that people are most — on their phones.

The Hawaii State Legislature website is excellent when using a computer, but inconvenient on a mobile device. This is a problem, since 78% of Gen Zers prefer using their mobile device over anything else. And it is not just Gen Z that is attached to mobile devices — Gen Xers spend about 21 hours per week on their smartphones. Creating easy-to-use tools for public engagement is not just for the newest generation.

Fortunately, there are already organizations and platforms in Hawaii doing just that.

For example, Pacific Resource Partnership launched KĀKOU this year as an app that allows community partners to inform their members and supporters of legislation, send out alerts and updates, and share engagement and advocacy opportunities. You can also register to vote in the app, find out key hearing dates and deadlines, email your legislators through the app, and find out who represents you at the local, state and federal levels based on your location.

KĀKOU is an exciting step toward engaging the next generation, and we need more initiatives like it in Hawaii — especially since 79% of Gen Zers say they would engage with a brand that could help them make a difference. KĀKOU also makes the democratic process easier by providing users with a roadmap to engagement.

A screen shot of the KĀKOU app.

By selecting and following organizations that work on a diverse set of issues — from education to Native Hawaiian rights to health care — KĀKOU tells users what issues are being considered at the Legislature, rather than having to comb through unfamiliar bill numbers.

There is also the HawaiiKidsCAN “We Are Voices of Excellence” student advocacy program. As a young person who is interested in civic engagement, I joined WAVE because it provides students with the tools and opportunities to get engaged in real policy work.

The HawaiiKidsCAN 2019 Public Education Survey shows that voters overwhelmingly support more hands-on work opportunities for students before they graduate. This is exactly what local organizations like HawaiiKidsCAN and platforms like KĀKOU are providing, making it easier for youth to develop the skills they need to be professional change-makers and leaders in the 21st century.

It’s not lost on my generation that getting involved in our government is important. Initiatives like KĀKOU and WAVE make it easy and appealing to make each valuable opinion heard and participate in our democracy.

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