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Changing Places: The importance of cultural change

Guest blog by CGI’s, Carwyn Cook, Director Consulting Expert | Local Government

Councils play a unique role as place-makers, delivering essential services which can improve life for their local communities. While organisational models and the supporting technology were traditionally siloed within vertical service lines, place-based models are now emerging, realising the potential for operating efficiencies and improved citizen outcomes. Any discussion of place-based innovation should not consider technology in isolation however, as a combination of technical, organisational and cultural change is required in order to succeed.

Place-led technologies

An increasing number of councils are implementing Smart Place solutions, using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to enable more efficient delivery models. These can be reactive, such as dynamic scheduling of waste collection routes, or proactive – for example damp sensors in homes which highlight potential issues for intervention before the problem becomes serious. Building up a body of data over time provides greater insight into patterns of demand, and areas where issues typically arise. It is therefore vital that councils avoid creating further data silos and recognise the value in a unified data platform, taking data feeds from smart devices along with other time and place-based data sets to form a holistic view of place.

The importance of cultural change

These solutions are proven and rapidly maturing, so the barriers to widespread adoption are no longer technical, but relate more to cultural and business change. To fully embrace place-based innovation, councils need to secure buy-in from the main stakeholders involved; council employees and citizens.

Employees may be concerned about changes to their responsibilities and working patterns, so communicating the benefits of this approach will be crucial. Less time travelling between jobs, increased variety of work, access to more accurate information and a reduction in paper-based admin are a few examples which can lead to improved job satisfaction.

Talk of operating efficiencies inevitably raises fears of job security, but it can be an opportunity instead to focus more time on higher-value, more rewarding tasks.

For the citizens, the prospect of improved quality of service seems an obvious benefit, but where this involves greater sharing of their data between service areas there may be concerns, so securing the trust and confidence of citizens is essential. Provided that robust information governance is in place, councils can demonstrate that this is legitimately in the best interests of citizens, will lead to better service delivery, and potentially at lower cost.

Communities of the future

Looking forward, we expect to see more widespread use of both smart place technology and place-based delivery models. The latter will build on a foundation of shared delivery across council service lines to include multi-agency working, with greater collaboration between public sector partners and with the voluntary sector. Along with the current focus on Integrated Care Systems, some areas of the UK are also investigating approaches to neighbourhood care such as the Buurtzorg model. Technology plays an important role here, but it is also essential to agree data sharing principles and operating models across organisational boundaries.

There is also the question of funding – for example local authorities are well placed to address some of the wider determinants of health, potentially reducing long-term demand on the health system, but this presents a cost/benefit equation spanning two discrete organisations. A shift to a more holistic model of funding and procurement could help this vision to become a reality.

As a final thought, as councils turn to recovery planning now is a good time to consider what ‘place’ means in a post-pandemic society. We have experienced an unprecedented level of change within the last year, some of which will have a lasting effect on the way we live and work within our communities. With growing appetite for hybrid working, some councils have established workplace community hubs for their citizens, in some cases repurposing parts of their existing property portfolios. This is just one example of councils reimagining how they can support citizens and businesses, reflecting a place-based model and an increased willingness to use digital channels. As we move forward, technical, organisational and cultural change will continue to be equally important factors in delivering place-led innovation for the benefit of local communities.

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