It makes sense for councils to connect with citizens through digital solutions, writes Paul Belfield, a senior communications and marketing partner at Nottinghamshire County Council.
There is a growing expectation amongst those who use council services that they should be able to do so digitally, so innovation is vital when trying to grow citizen engagement in local government. Rather than a ‘tick the box’ exercise, councils need to continuously evaluate and re-evaluate their services to ensure that citizen involvement in local council activity increases.
With that in mind, as we become more accustomed to having information at our fingertips, it makes sense for councils to connect with citizens through digital solutions. Ultimately, being able to communicate with councils online, will offer residents a greater number of access points to information on services and this is important as we witness a cultural shift in the population towards digital.
Our digital strategy
At Nottinghamshire County Council, we have been striving to make our core services more accessible. As part of our efforts, we have created a digital communications team that uses online channels, including social media and our website, to share information with the public in an effective and, most importantly, tangible way.
Granicus’ govDelivery platform, a service to develop email distribution capabilities, has been a significant factor in our team’s success. Installed eight years ago, the cloud-based email marketing service has since been integrated into Nottinghamshire’s IT provision, customised and branded as Emailme. Getting in touch with a range of service users, such as residents, businesses, and council staff, has been made much simpler as a result.
Emailme keeps citizens engaged on council issues, including waste and recycling, local job opportunities, as well as ‘what’s on’ in the area, whilst also making them more aware of the online services that the council offers. More and more residents have recognised the value of this platform as over 109,000 locals have already subscribed, and this number keeps on growing. With each person signing up to an average of three email bulletins, the service has amassed over 275,000 subscriptions.
Communicating through Covid-19
The pandemic has impacted all sectors and local government is certainly no exception as there have been many challenges for councils over the last year. However, the Emailme platform set Nottinghamshire County Council in good stead to overcome many pandemic related obstacles including service provision and public messaging.
Important updates related to the pandemic, including health and safety messages and notifications about temporary closures or re-openings of public services, were provided via the digital bulletin board to subscribers. For example, when we were finally able to reopen recycling centres, residents were quickly informed that they needed to book a designated time slot in order to ensure social distancing was maintained.
Working hand in hand with social media and our website, the platform successfully notifies residents of any changing information in a really timely fashion. The service has been particularly beneficial for vulnerable people seeking advice and for recruiting volunteers for the new Coronavirus community support hub, an online resource where citizens in need can seek services from individuals such as medicine or food delivery, as well as social wellbeing checks over the phone.
To gauge how satisfied our stakeholders are with the platform, we regularly send out a feedback survey to all the people who subscribe to email updates.
The results for 2020 saw strong positive outcomes including an increase in the percentage of service users who feel more satisfied with the council as a whole because of govDelivery and Emailme.
For Nottinghamshire, the real value for residents is that they no longer have to phone up the council every time they have a question. Not only does this benefit residents, as they can access the information they need more effectively, but it is also more cost effective as we work to manage our budget.
Following the success of this platform for marketing and communications across the council, we are looking to improve integrations with the council’s other Granicus solution govService, a digital citizen self-service delivery platform that is operated by a separate team.
The overall goal is to look at how joining the two products could add value to our services. One area could include school admissions, where clearly communicating clearly next steps parents need to take on the platform would reduce the number of calls and associated costs to our call centre. It is about the automation of those systems, giving our customers exactly what they need.
This strategic partnership between the public and private sector has certainly worked to our advantage. Granicus has been incredibly supportive as not only do we have a client success manager, but we also receive additional training sessions and opportunities to touch base with them during webinars and meetings. The digital functionality of the platforms has certainly aligned with our goals of modernising services and ultimately promoting citizen engagement.
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