Engaging citizens in the future
So much has been written about the pressures facing local councils that it hardly needs me to repeat it again here. In a nutshell, the level of spending cuts requires more than belt tightening and budget reduction, it requires a completely new approach in how local authorities meet citizens’ needs.
Councils need to take one step back and move towards public services that are designed around citizens and based on their specific needs and behaviour. Different groups of citizens will require different combinations of services and will naturally respond through different channels.
Understanding exactly what type of person makes up the resident population of a borough truly is a prerequisite for local councils to develop ongoing and effective citizen-focused strategies.
In an era where data is not hard to acquire, the new problem is finding the right data in the first place, and then appropriately managing it in order to decide where to invest resources. Citizen segmentation involves analysing a significant number of geographical and demographic sets of data in order to assess which residents share similar wants and needs. It makes little sense using local funds to keep open a local library all day if the majority of residents are young professionals commuting into London most days of the week and unable to access it at these times.
Having analysed the different sets of data and the most appropriate services for the community, councils then need to decide the most cost efficient and seamless way of delivering these services to those citizens, either via public bodies or private and third sector partners, and then communicating these to residents.
The power of social technology is changing the way that councils can connect with citizens, better inform them about local services and open up a dialogue that helps shape the future of public services through interaction and sharing of views. Doing more for less can only really be achieved by using technology to engage citizens and harness individual responsibility i.e. making changes to services with people not to people.
In the true tradition of ‘Act national, think local’, a shared back-office structure which signposts citizens to the available services in their area can achieve efficiencies through economies of scale. However, the real cashable savings will come from combining this with the appropriate citizen segmentation and local knowledge to understand what will best meet citizen’s needs ‘on the ground’.
Richard Giblin is UK Corporate Sales Manager, Pitney Bowes Software.
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