Transforming the relationship between the public and local government

Digitally transforming the relationship between the public and local government


People vote with their feet. When elections are concerned, the amount of people who get their feet to a polling station is a good indicator of how engaged the public are with local or national politics. In the 2017 General Election, more than 69% of the electorate turned out to vote, and the election debate was everywhere from the news to the pub. Compare this with the local council elections in England the same year, and you have just over half the turnout at 35.1%. The Scottish and Welsh local elections fared a bit better with 46.9% and 42% respectively, but the message is clear: the relationship and engagement with local government is in need of a little transformation. The answer to boosting engagement might well be digital transformation in local government, with councils harnessing AI technology to have fruitful conversations with the public.

How AI technology could bridge the gap

Do you know what your local government does? Some services like refuse collection and recycling might be obvious, with the council’s logo emblazoned on the rubbish trucks that come around every week. But for more specialised services like social care, many people don’t have a massive amount of awareness of the services the council provides or how to access them. One of the biggest ways that AI technology in local government can help transform relationships with the public, is by opening up conversations.

Often local government websites can be dry, inaccessible and difficult to navigate. While there are moves to redesign sites from a user-centred perspective, the technology exists to engage constituents further. Instead of filling in a clunky form on an outdated website, a real-time messenger platform is one example of how the experience can be made more conversational, so users can feel as though they’re going through the questions with a real person.

Always there for you

In today’s fast-paced world where anything is available at the touch of a button, people expect products and services on demand. Traditionally, the public sector has lagged behind at times in terms of innovation, but many councils are catching up fast with digital transformation strategies. One of the main benefits of bringing in AI technology to local government is that the council can respond to people any time of the day or night. Even if the technology is not advanced enough to answer a certain query, users will appreciate knowing their request is on the council’s radar.

As an example, Oxfordshire Council has already introduced automated responses to online queries outside of office hours. This has made the council more available to the people they serve. We’ve also worked with Monmouthshire and Enfield Councils to build AI agents that have transformed their relationship with constituents.

Wherever you are

Local governments are already providing services on people’s doorstep, from repairing pavements to your neighbour’s carer. It makes sense then that they should be available to interact with people right where they are, and for most people, that means their DMs. It is always a good idea to embrace platforms that most people use on a daily basis, with Facebook Messenger being a prime example. Rather than having to wait half an hour to speak to a local council representative on the phone, or days to get an email back, people can have their questions answered in seconds without having to leave their favourite app.

Increased accountability

One of the biggest benefits of digital transformation for councils is the way that more technologically advanced systems can feedback crucial data insights. These can be used to make improvements to services. Some insights that may get missed off a report created by a human agent, are all captured from online conversations with the public.

Analysing online interactions with users, for instance via chatbots, gives local governments access to a big data set. This can give more of an accurate picture of what constituents need and thereby inform future service provisions. A more interactive process means that beyond election day, the public can have more of a say about the kind of services they need and want.

How do people feel about digital transformation?

With recent data security breaches from the likes of Facebook and Amazon, it’s understandable that the public might be a bit wary of sharing too much personal data. However, there is also an argument that people might be more willing to share data with their local government, which provides services to help them. Local governments are putting security at the forefront of their work, and so digital transformation could well help to build trust and engagement with the public.  

There is a huge amount to be gained by councils who take the lead with digital transformation in public services. Not only can they make themselves more available to service users at a much lower cost, but they can also channel the insights from online conversations into improving the services they provide.