Local Authorities (LAs) may be missing a trick when it comes to digital policy. According to Mark Adams-Wright, O2’s Managing Partner for Local Government, LAs need to overcome their fear of data, embrace digital innovation and get on with engaging with citizens on their terms.

From the recent discussions I’ve had with LAs, ‘digital’ is certainly entering the public-sector vernacular. But it’s not a policy buzzword yet.

As you’d expect from any tech take-up, enthusiasm across Local Government is varied. Some see it as an opportunity for citizen engagement.

Then there are those who see ‘digital’ as invasive. And others who are happy just to wait and see.

Bridging the gap: private and public, digital and traditional

Of course, waiting and seeing is not going to win over the clamouring masses who already enjoy great digital experiences as customers.

I’m not saying LAs are the same as retailers. The engagement model is different – citizens tend to contact their LA only when they need help or if something goes wrong. But the Public Sector can learn from the Private Sector how to use digital to engage its audience.

When I worked at Suffolk County Council, we ran a mobile app day, where people built their own apps. It showed me that there are enough people out there who engage with digital tools and technologies in clever and innovative ways. Why can’t Local Government engage with this audience too? Such as using Skype to run virtual ‘walk-in’ community surgeries that quickly connect LAs with their citizens and the community issues that matter most to them.

Rules of citizen engagement

So, if your citizens are keen, where’s the problem with digital? It doesn’t help that technology has got a bad press recently, and much of this has focused on the misuse of technology and data.

As someone who’s sat in the data governance hot seat, I would say that much of the blame for data mismanagement lies not with technology, but with human error. You can lock down all your USB sticks, the chances are someone will still print out a highly confidential document and leave it on the train. So this negative PR can and should be reversed.

Rewrite the data rulebook       

The Public Sector’s hands-off approach to citizen data is largely a legal one. Most of the time, citizen data is collected on the understanding it will be used for one specific purpose. Widen this remit and you widen the community insight at your fingertips. Take Lambeth In Numbers as an example. Embrace data. Don’t keep it at arm’s length.

Knowledge is power, with 4G

The launch of 4G has finally offered a connection that is powerful enough to carry data quickly and securely. A powerful, ‘anytime-anywhere’ connection can only be good news for LAs, where workforces are often mobilised across regions.

What’s more, 4G-powered mobile data intelligence could reinvent Local Government infrastructure – effectively replacing the old, unsustainable office buildings that many LAs struggle to maintain.

Instead, forward-thinking LAs will be able to get on with their jobs of engaging with communities – armed with much deeper insight of the citizens they serve. Perhaps with some welcome assistance from the Local Government Digital Fund (LGDF), an initiative that provides up to £250,000 of O2 expertise and services to Local Authorities every year to further their digital ambitions.

To find out more about the digital opportunities that LGDF can help realise, visit o2.co.uk/lgdf

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on:
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