07 May 2021

There’s something about Ray

Guest blog: Phil Ruston, local and regional government sector lead at Agilisys discusses the role technology and data-driven insights should play in driving citizen-centric civic engagement

Ray is a keen runner who struggles with dementia – to the point where he would forget where he was, resulting in the police bringing him home on a regular basis. The situation was becoming dangerous, meaning he could no longer get out and do the one thing that was keeping him going. His condition deteriorated fast, putting immense stress on his wife and family too. That was until a chance meeting with a social worker, who happened to know a keen runner, who offered to take Ray running. That simple act gave his wife much needed respite and refreshed Ray. 

This real-world example demonstrates how people can play an integral role in service delivery and care. If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that a renewed sense of community is available. The ambition of tapping into the capability of community has always been there, but how do we deliver it as an ongoing set of circumstances that bring volunteers and people in need of support together? 

For me, digital could play an increasingly key role in connecting and signposting volunteers to support the most vulnerable and in need of help. Wouldn't it be great if we had a system – an asset register if you like – that captured people in the community who are happy to volunteer, and matched them with the need? The result would be fulfilling, in that the people who do the giving feel better, while those in receipt of care will obviously feel better. It’s a Win-Win-Win as it would also replace the Council as deliverer of services and act as a facilitator. 

Data driven personalised intervention 

The key for me here is personalisation; in terms of how budget is spent and on what. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, so it comes down to data-driven insights and intervention. 

For example, there’s a real issue with loneliness. How can we match volunteers who are prepared to host events – virtually or in-person depending on emergence from the pandemic – with those who would benefit from group sessions? Alternatively, for those who can’t or don’t want to do group sessions, how can independent living be encouraged through touchscreen communication aids?  

Personalised budgets open opportunities. Another person – let’s also call them Ray – loves fishing. If you get Ray out fishing, he's not doing things that detrimentally affect his health – being immobile, maybe smoking or drinking, which are clearly very harmful. So why don’t we use Ray’s personalised budget to buy him a fishing license and connect him with others in the area who fish? 

Systemised thinking 

This discussion is about solving challenges in communities; it's about giving people the power to know what's there to solve and empowering them to be able to solve it. We need to legitimise civic engagement. Can we tap into the people who report issues like fly tipping? Can we identify who has been engaged civically, who take pride in their place? How can we put the citizen at the centre, rather than the council?  

There’s also a question here around rewarding people. It would be interesting to see how technology can play a role in delivering recognition to volunteers, either through a civic award, or a loyalty scheme – get a free coffee or an hour of free parking when they reach 15 helping points. 

If we can systemise thinking, maybe using artificial intelligence, to create an asset register, we can get civic engagement going. Crucially, we can also create a perfect individualised response. It might take multi-agency joined up thinking – the third sector is well placed to help and often already has innovative technology in play – but it's an opportunity worth seizing as there are plenty of people like Ray ripe for help.