6th July 2021
Civica’s Martin Bradbury looks at what the future holds for local government and how COVID-19 has changed how councils engage with citizens
In 2020/21, it was predicted councils would overspend by £1.7bn. With local government budget cuts, reduction in resources and increased demand for services, councils were forced to make tough choices about which services they could afford to fund and those which needed to be cut.
For many councils, technology was historically a silent partner. However, being thrown into the most disruptive period in a generation has highlighted the essential role technology and cloud plays in keeping us working and connected. While working under a considerable amount of pressure, we’ve also seen the delivery of public services at their best and most innovative.
Coronavirus has turbocharged the digital transformation of almost every part of our days - of our workplaces, our businesses, the way we shop and stay in touch with family and the way we use public services.”
The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP Digital Secretary
It’s unlikely we’ll return to the way things were, or even want to. So looking into 2021 and beyond, our innovation lab, Civica NorthStar believe there are seven key trends that will keep pushing the boundaries and inspire us to be bolder.
- Tech-celerating citizen’s expectations
The pandemic has intensified citizen expectations and galvanised their demand for more digital public services: from reporting a missed bin collection to applying for a licence or making a complaint. People are more aware of what can be done online, more comfortable in doing so, and increasingly critical of those not meeting those expectations.
- Blended experience between physical and virtual worlds
As we step into our new future, where our home is now also our part-time office, we’ll see an increased demand for technologies to deliver and enable the consumption of public services anytime and anywhere. By the end of 2021 it’s estimated there’ll be 1.8 billion unique chatbot users across the world. So, we can already see how automation and conversational AI will provide initial triage, freeing up human support for those who really need it. For example, Monmouthshire County Council has introduced ‘Monty’ the chatbot. It’s proved so popular that only 6% of incoming enquiries are now managed by a call centre agent.
- Contactless everything
The pandemic has accelerated the cashless agenda, but it’s also giving rise to a new trend - a contactless society. Even when the pandemic lifts, the aspiration for contactless will remain. Therefore, we’ll see an increase in technologies that help us be part of society with less physical contact – i.e. using our mobile devices to access public services such as paying online for a licence, or non-touch devices to monitor our health
- The datafication of me, the internet of us
We undoubtedly live in a data rich world, and one that continues to grow at exponential rates. But we also live in an era where we can better understand and use that data for the greater good. In strengthening citizen trust, we see person-centric services becoming more important. Services that can adapt and respond to our preferences and provide earlier interventions for those most in need. Councils typically hold vast amounts of citizen data, and often in departmental systems that’s not accessible to other teams. But this barrier is beginning to fold and sharing data is helping councils to deliver better personalised services or speed up investigations, at a reduced cost.
- AI + Human Collective Intelligence = ?
As a society we’re facing increasing complex challenges. Collective actions have been a vital part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing intelligence and connecting broad experiences to solve problems. We’ve seen a number of councils use AI driven bots to automate simple tasks, such as keying in PDF and image-based words from legacy systems into CRM systems.
As we move through 2021, we’ll see the use of AI to assist this human collective intelligence; enhancing our capacity to make decisions, adapt and learn. By embracing this approach, our collective potential is limitless.
- The growing need for safety and security
While the pandemic has brought the positive engagement of our communities, it’s also increased our understanding of risk, and our need for safety and security, both online and in the physical world. As cyber-attacks have unfortunately become an almost daily occurrence, the World Economic Forum has listed it in the top 10 biggest global threats. In the last two years we’ve seen how devasting these sorts of attacks can be. Both Redcar and Hackney Councils were attacked and still recovering from it. The need to remain safe in an ever-connected digital world will continue to be an important focus area for our public services.
Revival of the local community
The past 15 months have seen significant challenges for both the UK and global economies. With record government borrowing, the impact of Brexit and the continued rise of the devolution agenda, we’ll see the growth of technologies to support the building of hyperlocal networks - matching those with need with those with the capacity to help. During lockdown, we’ve seen many local networks set up to support the local community – from litter pickers, to neighbourhood watch and care in the community.
If we get this right, these networks can help rebuild our local communities, enable closer working and improve local outcomes for everyone.
Working together, we can achieve more
The past year has shown what’s possible when we work together. Data, automation and new technologies powered by the cloud can offer opportunities for councils to respond more rapidly to these trends.
Looking forward, it’s that collective and collaborative spirit that will help us achieve more. And as we potentially approach the end of lockdown, it’s now time for us to reflect, build on those achievements and create the future of public services, today.