Local authorities run the risk of letting down citizens that depend on them if they fail to respond to consumer appetites for digitisation of basic services. Earlier this year, citizen engagement startup (and GovStart 2018 participant) Novoville issued a survey, with the purpose of identifying citizens perceptions about the services their local government provides. Here we take a look at the results of the survey, and explore some of the key findings surrounding the digitalisation of local services.
Survey results posted by citizen engagement startup Novoville – in partnership with PUBLIC and Socitm (The Society for Innovation, technology and modernisation) – found that the impact of slow adoption of digital services may hit younger generations hardest: less than 1 in 5 18-24 year olds (17%) are satisfied with their local council. When asked how councils could improve, younger people favoured greater transparency and better access to local authority services through digital channels, including apps and social media.
Overall, local authorities should take a degree of comfort from the survey. Across all demographics, 51% of citizens consider council services ‘quite satisfactory’, up from 45% in 2018. It is possible that this increase can be attributed – at least in part – to improvements in councils’ e-services, combined with increased usage of mobile apps and social media by local authorities.
However, nearly 10% stated that they were ‘not satisfied at all’, with levels of dissatisfaction highest among young people aged 18-24. Limitations in the accessibility of transactions is likely a key driver of citizens frustration: results indicate that perceptions of accessibility have increased since the survey was first undertaken, but the 2019 results indicate only two fifths (40%) of citizens agreed that online transactions with their local authority are accessible; almost one fifth (18%) still feel that these transactions are very rarely completed easily.
With just 11% of citizens considering themselves ‘very satisfied’ with their local council, it is evident that councils need to dedicate greater effort towards making services more efficient, more intuitive and more accessible.
What does this mean for councils?
A key takeaway from the survey is citizens’ desire to see their local councils go digital. When asked about their preferred method of participation, 34% said that they wanted to interact with their council by computer and 31% said by app. The vast majority (75%) said that they would use a mobile app to communicate with their local council, report issues, and receive real-time information about the progress of their report. This demonstrates a growing demand for local government to communicate with their citizens online rather than by post or over the phone.
With over a third of all respondents interactions with their local authorities relating to rubbish collection, it is important that councils recognise that the appetite for digitisation of the core and basic services they provide is already high; and only going to grow as millennial and Generation-Z engagement with public services increases.
For this age group, it is possible that the impact of slow adoption of digital interfaces is already having an impact on civic engagement. Almost two thirds (60%) of survey respondents interact with their council monthly, but this engagement drops significantly among 18-34 year olds; this age group is also statistically less likely than others surveyed to have responded to public consultations.
Local Government digital transformation is happening now
Digitisation of government services isn’t a new concept – in 2017, Gloucester City Council developed and implemented a ‘My Council Report It’ app which allows its citizens to send real-time information identifying the nature of an issue, its location and status directly to the council. Other apps and services have been developed for authorities across the United Kingdom – but with demand reaching a fever pitch, Novoville’s results conclusively demonstrate the need for councils across Britain to reconsider their approach to digitisation and engagement.
Having cottoned on to a nationwide demand for councils to digitalise, the British Government has begun investment in digital technology innovations for local councils. In October this year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government awarded local councils across the UK £500,000 for projects exploring the use of digital technology to improve local public services. The research and development projects will look at enabling better information sharing to drive improvements in local services.
“Councils across the country are working to embrace digital technology to adapt, innovate and drive improvements in public services for their residents”.
Local Government Minister, Luke Hall MP Whether it’s startups like Novoville leading the way on civic engagement, or local councils using government funding to fix problems in real time, digital innovation holds the key to bridging gaps between citizens and their city.
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