Connected councils: a local authority Chief Executive in 2025
How could councils use digital technology to improve life for their residents, businesses and communities?
We’ve imagined the future of local government in a series of case studies on what life could be like for citizens in 2025. Find out more about our vision for local government in our report, Connected Councils.
Leila is the Chief Executive of a unitary authority, a city of around 350,000 people in the north of England.
Although she’s nominally the head of the council, she sees herself as a steward rather than a captain. With very light management responsibilities, she focuses her time on building relationships with councillors and other public agencies; and on creating the conditions for her workforce to be fulfilled and performing to the best of their ability.
Sometimes it’s hard to take a back seat, but she has her hands full managing the forthcoming merger with three surrounding authorities. Her day starts with a monthly team meeting. With no service managers or executive meetings, team meetings are a frenetic affair involving all political and official staff, many of whom attend virtually. Everyone is encouraged to speak—teams nominate a different person each time to give an update—and they regularly invite partners (from the public, private and third sector) to attend.
Using digital talent to solve social problems
In this meeting, Leila wants to discuss the city’s plans to receive resettled refugees over the next twelve months. People from teams across the council already self-organise into working groups for settlement and long-term integration, but she’s keen to make sure they work effectively with employment providers who are less attuned to the needs of new arrivals. Screens around the meeting room show up-to-date demographic and skills information of the latest refugee cohorts.
Leila had anticipated being able to take up to 1,000 refugees, but a number of people speak out forcefully in favour of living up to their city slogan (‘A Home for All’) and the final vote comes out in support of taking 5,000 refugees. After the discussion, each team gives brief staffing updates, explaining what people’s job titles and descriptions will be and which partners they’ll be working with.
Teams decide on a month-by-month basis what roles people will perform based on their other commitments and preferences. Leila introduces a new cohort of recent graduates that are beginning fellowships to work on a number of projects: a heat map of cycle routes, a local energy project and a partnership project with the police force. In recent years, the council has struggled to attract skilled data scientists and service designers who tend to be drawn to London, and abroad. As a result, the council increasingly works with people on a freelance or part-time basis – which seems to better suit the millennials who now make up a majority of the workforce.
Collecting data through wearable technology
Leila explains that she herself contributed to the heat map on her cycle route this morning by donning a wearable device that will compare her skin responses, heartrate and verbal commentary with spatial mapping data about her route (including where she is forced to swerve or brake suddenly). As she introduces herself to the team that will be developing the new cycling app and making recommendations for safer cycle routes, she feels suddenly worried they will be able to see how much she was swearing and reminds herself that the data will be fully anonymised.
Sharing data with the public
The proceedings are made public, and residents will have the chance to download data about all the votes, staffing changes, and new public contracts announced.
Transcription software records the meeting in real time, but Leila has to give final approval before the transcript and any decisions are made public, giving her the opportunity to remove anything sensitive.