As more and more data on citizens becomes available to local governments, authorities have the opportunity to use this data to more effectively deliver public services, drive efficiencies, and do more with increasingly shrinking budgets.
At the same time, the capabilities of digital tools are advancing, which helps make it easier for local authorities to discover insights about their citizens in order to adapt and personalise services.
This article takes a look at the top ways that local governments can adopt a data-driven approach to transform the public services which they offer and also the challenges they face in achieving this.
When we talk to local government authorities and councils, one of the issues we hear time and time again relates to the availability of and ease of access to data. Local governments should seek to integrate datasets as much as possible from across departments and the wider public sector to enable deeper data analysis, and to provide frontline staff with a deeper understanding of how public services are working.
A great example is Manchester City Council who developed a data warehouse relating to social care which integrates 16 datasets from across multiple agencies. The aim of the project was for the council to be able to more effectively identify the families who are in need of additional support and to provide quicker access to quality information.
As a result, frontline workers now have instant access to all of the information they need, and decisions about which types of services different people need, and when, can be made more efficiently. Manchester City Council estimates that each worker that requires access to the data can save around 2 weeks per year as a result of the system.
AI Driven Support
We often think of artificial intelligence as a means of improving efficiency, but local governments also have the opportunity to use AI to improve customer (or citizen) experience. It is, of course, private sector businesses who we think of leading the way when it comes to providing customer centric experiences, but local governments are beginning to use conversational AI to transform their customer service experience.
As Natural Language Processing continues to advance, governments can increasingly look to combine human service with AI to build chatbots that have the ability to carry out a number of functions:
- Taking council tax payments
- Provide updates on service requests
- Registering for new services
Monmouthshire County Council has built its own chatbot called Monty which has been designed to work in conjunction with human support and is able to answer questions such as “when is my bin day” and “when is the next bus”. Whilst still in its infancy, Monty will learn from user requests to continue to improve experience and further relieve human service operators.
A topic we’ve explored before, by effectively combining data with technology, there is huge potential to optimise how places are built and managed. More and more devices are now connected to the Internet which makes it much easier to collect and analyse data.
There are endless opportunities to optimise how cities and towns operate, driving efficiencies in areas such as traffic management, air quality monitoring and waste collection. One local authority leading the way with the use of data is Bristol. For example, they are collecting data from 1500 smart lamp posts to drive improvements in environmental efficiency.
Bristol has a key focus on solutions being citizen centric, and not innovation for the sake of innovation. This is key for any digital transformation and innovation project, not just limited to smart cities and the public sector. Bristol launched a programme called “The Bristol Approach” which aims to ensure that transformation projects are always community driven, and focus on the data and technology required to solve society’s problems.
Private Sector Collaboration
With growing populations and limited resources, it is vital for local government to look to the private sector, not only for inspiration, but also for solutions to society’s most pressing issues. GovTech startups are launching with the aim of helping both national and local governments reap the benefits that come with being more data-driven. There are startups emerging to tackle issues such as in home care, city planning, and terrorism prevention, to name just a few.
It’s important that local, as well as national, government look to these solutions, and provides a level of transparency and availability of data, enabling startups to flourish and provide further insights and efficiency gains. The London Datastore is a great example. This free and open programme let’s anyone, including entrepreneurs, researchers, and developers, access data relating to the capital. There are datasets on a range of key issues including equality, the environment, and housing.
With more data becoming available and the capabilities of digital tools advancing, local governments have a variety of opportunities to drive efficiency gains and improve citizen experience. However, local authorities still have a number of obstacles to overcome to reap the benefits of data and AI.
As this article explored, local governments are under pressure from shrinking budgets. Whilst one of the benefits of becoming data driven is the potential time and financial savings, investment is still required to get to this point. Additionally, access to data can also be a huge issue. Local governments and the departments within them can be largely siloed, with communication and flow of data posing a threat to progress.
With this said, the benefits of data driven governments are becoming more and more widely accepted. To be able to make real progress, local governments should have a comprehensive data strategy which outlines what data they have available and how it is being and could be used to improve citizen experience. This will make it much easier to allocate resources in order to more efficiently tackle society’s biggest problems.