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'A good digital strategy starts with citizens' trust'

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One prominent issue when discussing digital strategy is the word itself. ‘Digital’ means many things to many people.

The ‘anywhere, any place, any time’ mentality promoted by the likes of Google and Amazon has had a huge impact on the way we all live. But what digital means in the real world, including public services, can still be hard to sum up.

To take people on the right digital journey the benefits must be personal and tangible, particularly for local government. For councils to realise their full digital potential, they must first engage with citizens and build their confidence to generate the data needed.

In a fully digital environment, local authorities can use the data they capture more effectively, providing greater insight.

When this is done well, councils can add huge value for citizens and gain their confidence, while using those same insights within the organisation to inform better decisions, improve productivity and reduce costs.

The challenge for local authorities is that most citizens are sceptical about why councils would want to capture such information. Quite often that data is hard to get.

Local authorities have traditionally been good at asking for information. But they need to look at articulating clearly why they need it, and what it’s going to help them do for their citizens.

That doesn’t work in today’s digital environment. With the likes of Amazon the benefit of contributing your data is immediately obvious, leading you to a better bargain or a new product.

Thus for local government, a successful digital strategy must involve becoming more proactive about how they work with their citizens, and a lot better at showing the advantages.

That will be a challenge. Local authorities have typically worked reactively – a difficult habit to shake. And most interactions citizens currently have with councils aren’t especially positive ones.

They could be applying for benefits, which can mean answering difficult questions, with the fear of giving the ‘wrong’ answer. Or they could encounter a local authority through paying council tax, evoking scepticism about the information requested, in the belief it may be used to increase charges.

It’s a long process to build enough trust with citizens for them to feel happy sharing. But councils can’t realise the full potential of their digital strategy without doing so.

Anthony Singleton, managing director, Capita

Column sponsored and supplied by Capita

 

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