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Australians dictate digital-driven community engagement

New study reveals citizen interactions with local councils are expected to increase but councils need to do more to establish greater trust with their communities

MELBOURNE, 8th October 2019: The future of local government relies on digital-driven insights and cloud enabled services for councils to keep pace with their citizens’ expectations.

This is the primary finding of new research undertaken by Civica and the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) entitled Community as a Service. In a survey of more than 1,000 Australians, 95 per cent of respondents said new technologies including roads and infrastructure monitoring, environmental and waste management and improved digital and social engagement could transform how they access and use public services. 

Digital local government

The research reveals citizen interactions with local government are expected to increase, with almost two-thirds (64 per cent) expecting to engage with their local council on local issues over the next five years. More than half (56 per cent) of citizens expect to be more actively engaged with local council decision-making than they are now.

Yet the research also shows that citizens want to engage with councils on their own terms.

More than three-quarters (79 per cent) of citizens expect their main interactions with the council to be through self-service technologies in the next five years. For example, the most important service identified by citizens is the ability to easily report issues to their local council online or with a smartphone (73 per cent).

Social media is also likely to increase as a form of engagement. Almost half (47 per cent) of respondents agreed they will primarily use social media to connect with their local council in the future.

When they do engage with councils, citizens want to see them react quickly, with 60 per cent of respondents expecting an instant turnaround on their queries.

“Citizens expect their local council to deliver the same kind of convenient experiences they get from the private sector,” Ben Cowling, Executive Director at Civica ANZ, says. “They want easy access to council information and on-demand services via their smart devices.

“We’re going to see citizens get more involved in the decisions made for their local communities. Local councils need to take advantage of cloud-based technologies that make it easier for citizens to engage and facilitate collaborative dialogue.

“This is the vision of local government of the future, providing community as a service.”  

The trust dilemma

Citizens expect their local council to employ new technologies to improve community services, yet only 28 per cent completely trust their councils to manage data. The research shows respondents generally express greater trust in healthcare providers (78 per cent), financial institutions (65 per cent) and educational institutions (63 per cent).

“Although the use of data presents new opportunities to deliver better experiences, local councils need to overcome current citizen perceptions about their ability to manage data. Cloud-based platforms provide a secure way to manage large volumes of data, efficiently analyse it to better understand the issues facing local communities and deliver solutions,” Cowling says.

“We’re developing cloud-based solutions that enable local councils to deliver services that meet their citizens’ expectations while managing their data securely.”

This is the fifth annual report for local government published by Civica and the UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance. The institute’s lead researcher, Sophi Bruce, says this year’s findings show that personal data use and data security have become hot topics.

“An increase in mobile connections was not previously thought to increase risk and privacy, possibly due to a lack of awareness about smart and connected devices,” she says. “The findings from this year’s research align with broader trends we’re seeing around data use. They suggest that citizens want to see greater transparency about how their data will be used and secured.”

Sustainable cities

Environmental sustainability is also a high priority, with more than half of citizens (54 per cent) identifying waste management and environmental sustainability as a key area in which they want technology to be used by local governments.

New technologies are critical to supporting environmental initiatives in the eyes of citizens, withalmost half (48 per cent) of respondents agreeing it’s very important for renewable energy and environmental sustainability projects.

These results are in line with predictions made in the 2015 report, which identified sustainable infrastructure as a critical role for local councils in 2025. For more information, download the full 2019 report now.