How data and tech could unleash community power
Local authorities, as everyone knows, are struggling to both balance their budgets and to serve their communities adequately. That means they can’t keep on doing what they did before, matching service provision to demand. Instead, authorities need to divert, delay, displace and delete as much demand as possible if they stand a chance of balancing the books. For me, this can only happen if we unlock the power of community – and that requires a healthy dose of creativity.
I say that because community collaboration comes in so many different forms. It could be engaging with the community to ensure they put their bins out on the right day and put the right stuff in the right bins. That requires the ability to understand the language and channels that work with individuals – and maximising response rates by continuing to learn what works. Or, on a more creative level, how do you change behaviours and encourage businesses to buy more services, such as trade waste? How do we communicate differently with this audience and bundle together all related, profit-making services relevant to this audience?
The biggest budgetary pressures facing councils involve adult and children care services. How do you keep people safe in their homes for as long as possible, with as little intervention from the council or health providers as necessary? By definition, this involves the community and finding people with the propensity to help by completing simple tasks that keep people out of care. Every month makes a big difference to budgets.
To unleash the power of community, authorities need to know what the problems are, and be able to predict them before they occur. That means knowing more about everyone in the community. What language works for them? What behavioural patterns do they exhibit? What channels should you communicate through? These insights hold the key to unlocking the potential of communities.
The good news is that technology can enable authorities to work with the community in a number of interesting ways. One example I heard recently involved checking the Facebook page of somebody who needs care. Can social media activity provide a suite of friends and family who are well placed to help and take the pressure off the council?
Of course, councils already possess vast quantities of data, which should provide the relevant insight needed to empower communities. Could we accurately predict not only how many people will come into residential care, but who they are and when they are likely to require support? And then, could we use this insight to enable those people to live at home longer to improve their outcomes and reduce residential care costs? Delaying just 10% of residential care placements by a year would save £5m in one council we worked with.
It’s worth pointing out here that the tools councils need to involve communities often exist already. By feeding data into existing apps, the private sector can take the strain, enabling councils to think creatively.
It’s this theme that I’ll be focusing on at the NLGN Stronger Things: Unleashing Community Power event on 12 March. During a workshop I’ll be encouraging delegates to think creatively and come up with ways in which technology can be used to leverage the power of community.
The good news is that the technology exists (and in some cases the data does too) – it’s more a case of thinking creatively how you can use it, along with capabilities in the community, to ease the pressure on councils.