It’s Monday morning and Ellie’s recycling hasn’t been collected, frustrated she sends a DM to the council Twitter account on her way out of the house. Using geolocation it dispatches a drone to go collect the bag that was missed by the refuse collection and sends her a picture to show it being removed. Later, during her lunch break, her local councillor calls her, after receiving a notification on their phone that a resident had an issue, to apologise for the error.
A far flung future? Or local government in the next decade?
Local government is entering an incredibly exciting, and scary, period. Huge changes in funding have meant for many councils a radical rethink of their finances. No longer is reliance on their grants a sustainable plan, in fact a world where there is no grant on offer is entirely foreseeable.
So what will become of local government?
In many areas it needs to get braver. It needs to leap through the challenges before it by embracing technology, by reshaping the role of local councillor, by redefining what a council service is and by harnessing the power of data analytics to increase the targeting of services.
Social media, for example, is allowing councils to directly interface with residents in a way that removes the need for long queues in council receptions or a dull waits on the phone. And whilst this form of interaction is still in its infancy, as we see the generation of ‘digital natives’ (those people who have been born into and grown up with a digital first world) replace the demand of other generations it becomes an entirely plausible proposition.
Local councillors too can embrace this new world. In a future where the ability for councils to directly respond to residents, whose ‘digital native’ upbringing makes them want a council that schedules around them and not the other way round, why can’t a new generation of connected community councillors act as an ever greater gateway into the council. Thus reducing the frontline demand coming into the council, freeing up its resource to deal with those who most need its services.
But the very definition of a council service also needs to be reviewed to ensure that in the 21st century it meets up to both the expectations its future consumers will have on it and the changing way they’ll wish to access it.
In a hypermobile world a static council with its obscure functions and processes, its opaque structure and its endless forms is not an organisation that ‘Generation Z’ will want to transact with. Services will need to be redesigned and redefined from the front end to the back end.
Greater targeting will also need to be on the agenda. Rather than serving tens of thousands of residents, assessing thousands and delivering a service to hundreds councils need to grow more adept at identifying those who would be eligible for their service and passporting them right through to the delivery of the service – removing needless demand on council resource and enabling greater self-service by residents.
Big data and more indepth analytics of those consuming councils services will make this an entirely feasible, and cost saving, possibility. By understanding and mapping the characteristics that make someone eligible for each of its services and ensuring it captures this information when residents interact with the business it can direct them to the service they need with minimal staff resource and maximum self-service.