How can councils develop a digital mindset?
July 15, 2019
Despite the heralding of the ‘end of austerity’, our latest local government survey, The Local State We’re In, finds that funding pressures are constraining local councils from fulfilling their ambitions, and no less so when it comes to technology. Only around half of respondents agree they can make the necessary savings in the next year, down from 72% in 2018. And only 30% think they can make the necessary savings in the next five years.
I recently attended a session at TechUK to share what is keeping Leaders and Chief Executives up at night; both in terms of their overall remit and also focussing in on digital specifically. Digital has been offered as a potential means of improving local outcomes and providing fairer access to services, whilst simultaneously reducing the costs. However, interestingly, only around half (53%) of respondents say digital will enable them to reduce costs, while nine out of ten (89%) agree that digital will enable them to engage in new ways with residents and communities and eight out of ten (80%) say it will improve service delivery.
So, if technology is better for service delivery, what is standing in the way of councils fully embracing it? Two other sets of results suggest the answer. The first is that only 45% think they have the right capability in terms of digital and technology, only 43% think they have the right capability in terms of business intelligence and, eye-catchingly, only 27% think they have the right capability in terms of data analytics. So, it seems that councils are struggling to obtain the right knowledge, skills and tools.
The second indication that technology may not yet be working at its best for councils is that, according to our polling, six in ten (60%) members of the public had not interacted with their council digitally in the past month and 21% are not aware of any council services being available digitally. Yet our Future of Government ‘pop up’ community suggested that the public believe that technology can play an important role in providing fairer access to services.
Taking these two together, it looks possible that councils are yet to create the kind of technology-enabled services that make transformational leaps forward to unlocking improvement and cost reduction - and that this is compounded by a lack of take up by the public.
Our report makes, amongst others, two critical recommendations. They are to: develop a digital mindset, harnessing new technology to deliver better outcomes; and embrace the value of data and invest in an analytics capability to inform decision-making and drive smarter, earlier interventions. Without a mindset that is constantly curious, collaborative by default and eager to learn from experimentation, councils will struggle to obtain and develop the capabilities needed to thrive in the 21st century. This is particularly important around data which is a vast and apparently untapped resource of huge potential for driving change.
We’ll be publishing further findings from our Future of Government research later in 2019. But for now, The Local State We’re In indicates that developing a digital mindset and embracing the value of data will be crucial if the digital agenda is to enable councils to deliver better services and outcomes in an age of continued austerity.