Digital Leadership blog post for Insights Report launch

January 1, 1970   By Capita

Some may remember when the phrase ‘commissioning’ entered the local government lexicon. It meant something different to almost everyone; yet it evolved into a way of working rather than a process. Perhaps the same can now be said of ‘digital’. For our children, ‘digital’ isn’t something they think of, or even articulate as a concept – they just do it. For the internet generation, what we refer to as digital is arguably [or ‘in fact’?] a culture and default lifestyle – and one that has not only raised, but completely transformed expectations around service delivery. To them, it’s normal. From a council perspective, it is not; or perhaps, not yet. And perhaps the starting point for councils is to think about the digital response to consumer expectation from the perspective of people and culture not kit, apps or technology per se.

This is more than a case of there simply not being many local government people out there who are truly ‘digital first’. We can see a need for a wholesale shift in mindset.

For us at Capita, ‘digital’ is about disruptive interventions that change behaviours, and not always about using technology. Digital in local government to date has been more about responding to a specific problem or process, than developing this new mindset of raised consumer expectation. We hear of many senior leaders who are being bombarded internally with conflicting approaches to digital, from the most basic to the radical. And it can be hard to know who to listen to. There is also huge variation across the sector. And while putting forms on a council website or enabling citizens to request or transact basic services online is now the norm, we are still a long way from drone parking wardens or driverless gritting vehicles. But there is at least consensus that councils have started the journey. Social media has, for example, been embraced by many local authorities as a key way to hire or communicate – though only for a relatively a small number of chief executives is it an effective part of their leadership approach.

So, more than just recruiting digital experts from the Amazons of this world, what will also be needed throughout councils will be people from a range of professional backgrounds with digital skills and capability. Digital is not just the responsibility of the chief technology officer – digital is now a core leadership competency that needs to be developed within the organisation. This will challenge norms around job descriptions, pay and career planning – and you may not contain or retain them for long. Sometimes, however, a disruptor is exactly what is needed.

As we have found, there are numerous definitions of digital and numerous challenges for driving that kind of transformation across the council. We hope that the latest NLGN Insights Report on Digital Leadership will be valuable as you plot your own course. It is launched today and is available exclusively for NLGN members. For more information about the range of benefits of joining this community of innovative councils, please contact Richard Nelmes, Head of Network, on rnelmes@newlocal.org.uk.

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