With Councils staring into a hugely uncertain future, the first steps to meaningful digital transformation vary greatly from one authority to the next. With this in mind, we make our case for developing digital resources with targeted research and a design-led approach.
Councils are trying to achieve everything at once. With one eye on Smart City prestige, it’s easy to forget that their main objective is still to calibrate traditional services for a digital world.
Future visions of “Smart” status are often miles away from immediate transformational needs, but these two objectives share the same foundations - catering for user needs and progressing naturally from there.
To illustrate our point, some UK councils take an aggressive (and expensive) approach to the adoption of new technology, taking the view that to get things moving, an organisation needs to make experimental leaps rather than considered steps.
Whilst innovation with AI, sensors, chatbots and automation is commendable, the end goal is still catering directly for users ‘on the ground’.
Valuable technology is being developed daily, but if councils feel pressured into taking on the latest innovations, they may end up leaving these users behind, and the next big tech investment may not necessarily mean big benefits. So what are the first steps in digital evolution?
Taking the First Steps
From our perspective, councils need to first understand their user base, understanding where citizens fit into their service architecture, and what digital and non-digital touchpoints they are using.
Council digital strategy needs to focus on evolutionary, incremental gains and effective investment. Careful research and gap analysis may indicate where digital interventions might be used to bring users into the digital loop, what resources need to be streamlined, which ones need to be scaled-up and developed outwards.
The core digital interface for most councils is their website. It might sound simple, but this is increasingly the first stop for information, payments and requests. A vital step for councils is to develop ‘customer accounts’ portals for their citizens: Your account with all of your details, and requests, all in one place.
This works two ways. The citizen has a single, tailored view of the council, and the council a single view of each citizen.
These self-serve accounts are digital at its best - user-focused, simple, and efficient. This can be taken a step further, delivering, presenting and bundling services in a way that makes sense to the user and simplifies their journey by targeting the ‘life events’ which first drew them to the council site.
Our own Local Government Digital Platform is tailored around this targeted user experience and the need for a “My Account” umbrella. It places citizens very much in control of their own digital lives, reducing the need for human intervention, increasing positive transparency and bringing user self-management in-line with other account-based services.
Some councils need to reach this stage quickly in the ‘Smart City’ evolution. Others are already there, and ready to build from a good core user interface.
Growing the Relationship into the Future
Through our work with user experience and citizen need, Orange Bus is preparing the way for councils who want to build from the ground up - from efficient core services, onwards to bigger technology-led change.
A relationship based on a sound understanding of citizen needs grows slowly but surely. As it does, future tech investment like AI and chatbots will naturally form resilient links to better customer engagement.
This brings us to an interesting crossroads. Councils can realistically sit at the digital heart of the ‘place’ they serve. They can become a locally and globally connected digital body, investing in creating services valuable to their citizens. Or, they could become gratefully disintermediated, cutting costs by acting as a broker for local services where government investment falls down.
To grow in both directions will mean a ground-up and top-down restructuring of local councils, developing the strategy and corporate accountability of big cultures like Amazon and Google, while retaining democratic accountability to their citizens.
Digital redevelopment is simply one strategic challenge for council services, but designing around user needs brings a completely validated clarity of vision which will ready councils for a challenging new era.
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