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Citizen engagement with online services

For council staff to buy back time, we need to crack down on duplication, writes John McMahon, product director at IEG4.

The unusual events of this year have meant that digital transformation has been at the top of the agenda for most organisations as they use online tools to allow them to work from home, or simplify processes in order to speed up support.

For councils, the real focus has been on encouraging citizens to engage with them and their services online. This has been driven by traditional routes of interaction between citizens and council staff becoming harder. For example, trying to reach someone on the phone to ask about bin collection times, if they are not in the office, and no longer being able to ‘pop in to the building’ to see them with enquiries.

Although creating a better online service is now an urgent requirement for local authorities, it is not a new one. Before the pandemic there was a drive to improve the way that council services were accessed, which has now been amplified. Not only to improve the experience for citizens, but also to save staff time; time which has become more critical than ever having to cope with implementing new processes with the ever-changing guidelines.

Every day councils receive many reports from concerned citizens about issues in their local vicinity. From vandalised property to potholes, these helpful reports paint a clear portrait to the council on the work that needs to be done in the area and, in return, the council can offer the citizen information on when it will be resolved.

This can however become troublesome when several reports of the same issue are filed at once. Not only does this mean that more than one citizen has spent time filling out a form on the council website, but every report on the same matter has to be assessed by a member of staff.

This duplication of data entry and multiple reviews is time consuming for everyone involved, and although online forms have made it easier to report issues than previous paper-based practices, there are still ways to improve the service through the digital transformation of council websites.

Imagine if everyone had a single view of each issue. If, through geolocation tools, they could look up a specific pothole, for example, and see that not only had it already been reported, but that work was scheduled to get it fixed. This would only require one point of data entry and enable citizens to view issues that the council already has view of and receive a real-time status; thereby preventing duplicate reports being submitted on the same thing.

How would this solution work?

For a council to adopt a solution that can provide this view to citizens, they must first apply a platform-based, council-wide approach that can capture geolocation-based information, and create processes and cases.

For example, with the citizen engagement platform OneVu, you are able to build online forms featuring a map within them, then set this to automatically create a trackable case, which contains the location of the issue, in real-time. This automatically populates into a new ‘Issues’ area of the system allowing citizens to see things already reported or being worked on. With its latest upgrade, non-technical users can be responsible for the creation of an entirely digital mechanism to report, track and monitor location-based issues.

So, as an example, by just giving the platform the defect code for ‘pothole’, you can instantly see every pothole held in the system along with a huge amount of underlying detail about it, such as its job and inspection status.

Delivering digital transformation through a single sign-on platform

It’s simple solutions like these that are the main enablers for digital transformation.

When one looks across any industry, the journey to deliver effective digital transformation has required organisations to implement new capabilities in stages and use these as building blocks on that journey. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight and is never ‘done once and done no more’. As new technologies emerge, they can exploit the building blocks already in place.

By its nature, the transformation of council services will need to spread across multiple services and departments before it can become all-encompassing. No organisation can be ‘a little bit transformed’.

Many councils have turned to their citizen engagement platforms to provide the development toolkit and architectural platform to support their service transformation journey and deliver ‘quick wins’ along the way, providing councils with an extendable solution to deliver digital service transformation. However, not every solution delivers.

Empowering citizens with information

Whilst taking a platform-based approach to showing known issues such as potholes is not unique, you will find that only a select few have all the different council-wide functions listed. In this way, platform-based systems covering all of a Council’s functions are designed to make councils more digitally self-sufficient, be proactive in avoiding unnecessary contact and solve customer queries in the cheapest and readily available channel. This is Digital.

This powerful functionality is made possible without any technical knowledge being required by users and it delivers an exceptional customer experience for your citizens. Something which is especially needed now in these changing times.

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