The way that people communicate and engage with the public sector has never been more collaborative. Digital community engagement is key to widening participation and is allowing communities to be at the forefront of public decision-making.
Communities around the world are ready to collaborate with their councils. It’s time for more public sector organisations to join their counterparts who have already adopted these new technologies.
There are many areas of the public sector that can benefit from using a more innovative approach to community engagement. Here are just a few examples:
- Blue light services
- Public health and safety
- Urban planning
- Waste management
We’ll be sharing some examples within these industries. But first, it’s important to explore why digital engagement tools are necessary and beneficial, and how public sector organisations can start using them.
Benefits of digital engagement
The need to be cost-efficient has never been greater. Especially given recent developments in inflation and the impacts of the pandemic. By adopting digital technologies, you are maximising the opportunity to reach more people instead of using traditional, in-person tactics. Making the cost of engagement stretch further.
By automating communications, your staff will save on time they would typically be spending on handling public queries. This doesn’t mean they can’t utilise in-person engagement tactics too, as these can still be hugely beneficial. But it does mean they’ll be more supported, as a digital tool is available 24/7. There’s an additional benefit to your community too, as they’ll instantly be able to access information from their mobile devices, instead of searching online or waiting to attend face-to-face engagements.
Gain a wider and deeper understanding of the people you serve
As we touched on before, digital engagement tools help widen participation, particularly among people in society that are typically harder to reach. For example, the results of our deployment with the Harbour Trust in Sydney, Australia found that visitors who identified themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders were represented 33% higher than the national average.
By opening a two-way dialogue with everyone in your community, you can uncover new challenges and identify solutions. All this additional data helps you understand your community better and make more informed decisions.
What does digital engagement look like?
Social media has played a role in community engagement for a few years now. There’s no doubt that it provides a useful communication tool for public sector organisations, and for their communities who need a platform to share their opinions. For example, in 2019 The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement found that 47% of UK adults had used social media for some form of political engagement. Including activities like contacting a politician or encouraging other users to act on a political issue.
However, there are limitations to using social media for community engagement. There’s the challenge for you to ‘cut through the noise’ and ensure your communication reaches its intended audience. Then there’s the lack of guarantee that you’ll receive useful, actionable insight in return for your efforts.
Here’s where using a more intentional digital engagement tool is beneficial. Digital platforms, chatbots and artificial intelligence offer the same personalised, collaborative experience for both local governments and the general public. And if you’re unsure whether the public is prepared for innovative engagement tools, a report published by Salesforce finds that 52% of respondents said they’d be ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’ to use new technologies to engage with the government.
The future of community engagement
There is no doubt that the future of community engagement will continue to become more and more digital. 60% of respondents agree that government needs to modernise how it delivers services to customers (for example, use newer technology to deliver services).
The UK Government has recognised the significance of innovation in the future success of the economy. As part of their ‘Build Back Better’ strategy, the government is planning to reform and enhance the processes that facilitate innovation in the UK. The strategy includes relocating 22,000 civil service jobs out of London to support the levelling up of cities and towns outside of the Capital, and making innovation more accessible and regulated for the organisations that have one eye on the future.
As new technologies emerge and develop, there’ll be more options and services available for the public sector to use. It’s now up to local governments globally to commit to a progressive strategy that involves the public in their decision-making from the outset.
We’re about to explore how different areas within the public sector have used our technology to find new solutions for existing problems. Because by harnessing community engagement, the public sector can build smarter, more connected spaces and services.
Let’s look at some examples of how public sector organisations are already using digital community engagement.
Case studies: Organisations that have adopted digital engagement tools
Climate Action: Southwark Council
Over 80% of local authorities in the UK have declared a climate emergency. It’s one thing to recognise the climate crisis and the need to reduce the impacts of climate change on our environment. It’s another to use innovative technology to help.
Southwark Council used our technology to raise awareness of the climate emergency within their local community. They also encouraged residents to share their ideas for how the community can achieve carbon neutrality and had over 2,000 interactions with the public on these issues.
Public Health & Wellness: North Lanarkshire Council
Supporting people with their mental health and well-being is a high priority in the public sector, particularly given the cost of living crisis. Our client North Lanarkshire Council is using our technology to provide 24/7 mental health and wellness support to their community.
They have positioned our signage at sites experiencing above-average rates of suicide, to ensure that at-risk members of their community have access to sufficient resources and support in times of need.
Since launching the deployment, circa 60% of users, who would have otherwise not been identified, have recognised themselves as “at risk” and have been given access to appropriate resources and support services.
South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service is using Hello Lamp Post to provide a digital, interactive home safety assessment. The digital tool takes users through a safety check, covering the basics of fire safety and evaluating whether an in-person check is required – saving the Fire Service time and resources on inbound enquiries and helping them to save lives.
Since the Fire Service started using digital community engagement, it has made over 21,000 interactions with the public. Compared with the time it would take to reach this many interactions face to face, using our technology has saved South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue approximately 345 days of staff time.
Through the interactions with local residents, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has digitally safety-checked over 500 households in the region. As a result, they have then identified over 150 households in need of a further in-person inspection.
The Service will continue to offer in-person safety checks, to provide support to at-risk households. Using our technology as an additional engagement tool allows them to support a greater number of households, including those initially identified as lower risk.
As healthcare demands require increasing levels of digitalisation to support with minimising costs and rising patient numbers, it’s important for providers to stay on top of new technologies.
The Royal United Hospital Bath are deploying our solution to automate the FFT (Friends and Family Test, a time-intensive evaluation for UK hospitals. By digitalising this activity, they’re able to save time and reduce administrative burdens for their staff.
Working with two wards: Urgent Care and Orthopaedic Outpatient, our tech has received over 2,500 text interactions from users per year.
Environmental Protection: Environment Agency
The Environment Agency tackles a range of environmental challenges, such as coastal erosion, flood risks and fishing laws. They’ve been using our technology to engage local communities across the UK in coastal preservation and flood defence, in high-risk areas such as Devon, Cornwall and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Conversations vary from sharing information about what to do in the event of a flood, to gathering public opinion on climate change.
Since the start of the deployment, the number of interactions from the local community has been equivalent to hosting 40 in-person engagement events. As these interactions take place digitally, The Environment Agency’s engagement costs per capita have reduced by 92%, and they’ve saved 5 tonnes of carbon – contributing to their environmental goals.
By adopting digital engagement technology, The Environment Agency is gaining a deeper insight into the behaviours and opinions of people living in coastal areas, all while saving financial costs and reducing their carbon footprint.
We’ve explored four examples of how some of our clients have used our technology to serve their communities better.
Now it’s time to look at how you can use technology to engage your community. Here are three tips for best practice, to help you gather the insight required to aid strategic decision-making.
Include your whole community
Traditional, in-person methods of community engagement and outreach have more barriers to accessibility, like location and timing. Using a digital platform gives the public access to the technology 24/7, in locations they can easily reach in their area. Including a larger, more diverse audience within your community will help you find out what they really need from you.
Deliver a clear message
It’s important to have a clear message or question for your community. Think back to our examples:
South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is sharing fire safety tips and identifying ‘at-risk’ households in their area.
North Lanarkshire Council is providing mental health support to those in need.
The Environment Agency is delivering flood safety and awareness comms.
When you communicate a clear message to your community, you will receive more purposeful, actionable responses in return.
Create a playful, interactive experience
Playfulness is at the heart of what we do. Because we believe that creating an experience that excites and stimulates the public leads to higher levels of engagement.
Government approval in the UK is at an all-time low this year, which means a people-oriented approach is key to building back trust. We’re all humans after all, we need excitement and play to thrive and succeed in society. The same rules apply to public engagement. Give people a reason to enjoy engaging with the public sector.
How do you think the public feels about engaging with their government via their mobile phones?
We’ve seen how using our innovative digital solution has enabled our clients to reap the benefits of effective community engagement. As a result, they’re sharing valuable information with the people they serve. And gathering feedback that’s helping them address key challenges, such as taking action on climate change or supporting their community during tough times.
Consider your plans for the next 12 months. Do you feel confident you can deliver on your objectives, without consulting the people you’re here to serve at scale? If not, using a digital community engagement tool may provide the solution.
If you’re interested in discussing how our unique engagement platform can support you and your community, get in touch with us at email@example.com to discuss your plans with our Community Engagement team.