Time to Innovate & Engage: revision of existing interaction means

Technology development puts pressure on all forms of government to modernise services, to become more responsive to public needs, to provide efficient problem-solving and to be more open and transparent. This in turn leads to more effective and meaningful democratic participation.

Local government is at the centre of this transformation, in their relationship with businesses, other public service organisations and directly with citizens. But they inevitably struggle to keep pace with technological development, the expectations of digital citizens and the risks and challenges associated with these changes.

The starting point on this journey is to build a mutually beneficial relationship between the citizens and communities with local public service providers. Technology based digital tools, if well-designed, can enable this, offering ways to construct fast, open, responsive and participatory public services fit for the 21st century. Digital methods also offer the potential for efficient yet customised services based on common digital components which reflect the needs of the individual and the diversity of our communities.

Our survey was designed to record the frequency, the type and the quality of current and preferred interactions between citizens and local councils.

Our key findings demonstrate significant willingness and demand from citizens in general to embrace digital services from local government in the UK. But it depends on councils being willing and able to implement citizen-facing, modern, digital solutions placed at the heart of their service models.

"Time to innovate"

Only 40% use the City Council website to interact

37% use the telephone

13% prefer physical presence

10% use other methods

Among the respondents, the retired people prefer accessing a Council website as the best platform to interact, whereas the unemployed and the lower income residents prefer to use the telephone.

This was not expected – typically older people, we are told, are resistant to using technology and prefer face to face interaction. It may also indicate concerns for some people, about using digital methods when they have complex needs. The findings suggest a need to design more around the expectations of lower income family’s needs and the unemployed in a shift to digital delivery.

"Time to engage"

The challenge for local government policy makers is to create digital methods which can facilitate meaningful civic participation and which genuinely drive digital adoption. This survey indicates that there is still a long way to go in this, with almost 7 out of 10 respondents feeling excluded or not well-served by existing methods.

However, at the same time, roughly half of all citizens who do use council services or are involved in council activities, prefer to use digital means.

68% do not express an opinion on city-related issues through official channels (website, email, letter). The percentage is higher among women (73%), the less educated (77%) and the unemployed (77%).

Among those who expressed an opinion, 45% preferred to use social media & Council websites, whereas 38% preferred discussions with friends and family and 16% preferred letters and emails to local authorities.

Similar trends are identified in more surveys (see table below).

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