How will COVID-19 reshape tomorrow’s society & public services?

techUK is exploring the world in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic with a series of weekly webinars. The second in the series of webinars, we explored how the society of tomorrow will be different and how has that re-shaped our sense of place and service delivery? We were delighted to have a mixture of speakers from across academia, local government an industry:

  • Paul Brewer, Director for Digital & Resources, Adur & Worthing Councils
  • Helen Gerling, Managing Director, Shaping Cloud
  • Mark Thompson, Professor of Digital Economy, INDEX, University of Exeter, and Strategy Director, Methods
  • Ingrid Koehler, Senior Policy Researcher, LGiU

COVID-19 has seen us develop a renewed sense of community. The crisis has also been a dramatic accelerator of change for our public services, from how swiftly they are responding to working with partners across the place and the use of digital.

You can watch the full video here but here are some of the key insights from the session.

Acceleration of tech adoption and innovation

In the past leadership would have been the driving force to digital transformation, now it is COVID-19. Nearly every council is now operating digitally – from the workplace to service delivery to council committee meetings. Ingrid Koehler highlighted how the crisis has helped remove the element of risk aversion to digital whether from regulatory or trying something new. However, the prize will be whether the attitude to risk remains after crisis.

Mark Thompson highlighted the scale of the digital challenge councils have responded to with the example of Birmingham Council moving 400 contact centre staff online, and many more councils moving to the Cloud and going paperless.

Innovation has also accelerated. Mark cited the example of Swindon Borough process automation to improve the distribution of school meal vouchers. Helen Gerling also noted that if teams are now equipped with the devices they need does this free up ‘IT’ teams to focus on innovation.

While council use of digital has moved at pace, those councils that have had the existing digital infrastructure and agility were able to respond swiftly. As demonstrated by Paul Brewer and his team being able to utilise existing digital platforms to understand demand and design a service within 48 hours to manage referrals across voluntary organisations and supporting community with the volunteers.

Recognition of data

In our bid to protect the vulnerable and shielded there have been many data questions Helen raised - do we have the right data, where is that data and how is it being shared? It has placed huge recognition on the importance of data in how we design services and meet user needs.

Breaking boundaries and shift to place

The crisis has shaped councils as the broker between demand and supply. Paul Brewer mentioned that the crisis has helped break down the traditional territorial barriers on who delivers what service. We now need to look at how we continue and reshape this infrastructure post COVID-19 to maintain neighbourhood working in an organic way. It offers an amazing opportunity to convene around common issues and citizens to bring meaningful partnership working. This enabled by digital infrastructure and data. A local case study on how to design our way in the future.

No going back

Consensus was not to revert to previous behaviours and way of working – from the workplace to how we deliver services. Mark mentioned a reverse business case, a structured way for councils to ensure that they retain the benefits of these new capabilities and new ways of working. Swindon Council have been using social listening and sentiment to understand how citizens want services to be delivered post COVID. An opportunity to take a conscious pause and hold on to the good and learning the lessons from the council on what we can do differently.

What struck me was that meaningful collaboration is possible and place-based working will become the norm. What the council of the future will look like is something techUK will continue to explore and will work with authorities to help inform their thinking on this. If you have any views or comments do get in touch with our Head of Local Public Services Georgina Maratheftis.

There is also a great write-up from Mark Thompson at Methods. You can read his summary here.

Our next webinar in this series is on 07 May, on trade policy post COVID-19.

  • Georgina Maratheftis

    Georgina Maratheftis

    T 020 7331 2029

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