If you were designing the local council of the future, what would it look like? Milton Keynes’s IoT sensors in bins to alert rubbish trucks when they are full? Lewisham’s app to make it easier for council staff to report street problems? Reykjavik’s open decisionmaking platform? Boston’s use of citizens as sensors to create a real-time map of road conditions? Seoul’s initiatives to get people to share goods and skills with one another?
Over the next few months, we’ll be developing a picture of what the digital council of the future might look like. Digital local government is the phrase on everyone’s lips, but no one is really sure of the best way forward. Local authorities don’t have any extra cash to play with and lack central government’s economies of scale. Nesta will be working with councils to work out the practicalities of digitalising local services. But we’ll also be thinking through the desired end state. What is the best possible way a council could be run, and what role should technology play in this?
The promise of digital
At its heart, digital is about helping councils connect better with citizens and deliver user-centred services. Like gov.uk - which takes the view that citizens want to deal with government as a platform for services instead of siloed departments - a digital council would offer smooth, seamless pathways through different services. Previously cumbersome transactions would be instant. Such improvements to transparency and user experience could greatly improve trust and confidence in the way local government is operated.
But it will also deliver a lot of unglamorous stuff. Digital isn’t just about making services look pretty but running them better. With a financial model that isn’t sustainable, councils need to become more like startups, shrinking the back office and hiring more technically skilled staff. They need to enable frontline workers to focus on the important stuff, by cutting down on travel time and paper work. And they need to radically disrupt their models of service-delivery, moving away from siloed services and sharing data and resources across agencies to tackle cross-cutting challenges.
We think that digital might facilitate people powered services and ultimately broker a new relationship between citizen and council. If you have any examples of great ways local governments here and abroad are using to digital to improve public services, please get in touch.