Time to engage and innovate? Our recent survey in the UK demonstrates new challenges and opportunities for local decision-makers


Areas covered:
England and Scotland

10 cities and boroughs in England (Swindon, Southampton, York, Reading, Oxford, Nottingham, Milton Keynes, Bristol, Brighton)

2 cities in Scotland (Edinburg, Dundee)

Period / time span:
February – April 2017

Key Findings

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.

Whilst people are in general willing and able to become involved in democratic processes, the younger generation is relatively excluded, and new means should be adopted to recognise the way in which they wish to engage. This is most likely to be simple, smartphone-enabled interactions.

Hello, it’s me

Two thirds of citizens have been in touch with their local council over the last 18 months, with nearly 50% interacting 1 to 3 times, and 18% of citizens being in touch with their local council more than four times.

Analysis of the survey data demonstrates that people with higher education tend to interact more often, but higher income citizens do not. Among the age groups, the young (18 to 24) are less interactive compared to the 35-44 age group who tend to seek services more often. A high proportion of the population seeks support from local government, and inevitably those demands are greater from older people. It is therefore important to ensure that digital services reflect the interests and expectations of that demographic group

Rubbish Collection matters most

Rubbish collection is the most common reason for contact across all age, gender and education groups. However, the lower income groups are more interested in housing. The key point here is not about “what matters most” but it does indicate which services which should be prioritised for digital interaction.

Looking for a 21st century administration

In the survey we asked the public to say what they consider most important for their council. Our findings could not be more encouraging: respondents are looking for an administration that is transparent, customised, focused and innovative.

I can’t get no satisfaction

The survey result suggests that councils do not meet the expectations of the majority of citizens in our survey results. Only 45% say that they are satisfied with their council services, 39% consider them just acceptable and almost 15% consider services to be unacceptable.

Lower income population and mid-level educated groups are the most dissatisfied groups among the respondents (around 25% approval rating in our survey). This level of dissatisfaction is not easily solved by technology. But well-designed digital interactions can empower and engage citizens.

Time to innovate

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

This survey indicates that there is still a long way to drive digital adoption, with almost 7 out of 10 respondents feel- ing 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 (web- site, email, letter). The percentage is higher among women (73%), the less educated (77%) and the unemployed (76%)

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.

Empowering a digitally-friendly audience? Go mobile!

We asked the public to declare what it deems important for a city council. Our findings could not be more encouraging: respondents are looking for an administration that is transparent, customized, focused and innovative.

What’s next?

Citizen engagement remains a complex challenge that requires a rigorous and systematic approach, yet one which is also personal and targeted. High quality digital services are essential for this, not only to meet the expectations of smart-phone owning digital citizens, but also to work within increasingly constrained budgets.

According to our experience and research in Europe, if citizens are allowed to monitor policy-making, budgets and decisions themselves, they are more likely to trust their public services.The big challenge for local government decision-makers in the 21st century is how to harness the creativity and the energy of the local community, the businesses and associations, yet not create new cost and support burdens. That challenge moves beyond individual citizens and includes smart cities, digital services in general, and the exploitation of open data.

Therefore, 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.

Click here to download the complete survey.

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