Five ways to improve citizen experience in local government through innovation

Local governments around Australia are faced with a growing challenge: modernising their online services to deliver an improved citizen experience and innovate, while working with limited tech resources, restricted budgets and large legacy systems, writes Sam Hunt.

Sam Hunt

A few local councils around Australia have been real trailblazers in delivering the digital experience Australian citizens expect in today’s connected world. GitHub recently co-hosted a conversation with technology leaders from the Ipswich and Georges River to understand how they are  overcoming the tech challenges government institutions typically face.

Here are the five key insights they brought to light, which will hopefully help more local councils innovate.

Tapping into open source community resources

A trend we see often within local government is the use of open source platforms, where developers take advantage of resources that already exist through the open source community and contribute back to other councils.

Fostering collaboration and reliability, open source communities and platforms can help local councils answer some of the biggest challenges they currently face: finding relevant tech skills, accelerating speed to market and delivering innovation with limited budgets, while effectively integrating new services and capabilities through a community-based approach.

Unveiling untapped talent pools with innersourcing

Historically, local government IT departments have been time and cash-poor whereas the community they serve continually demands a bigger, better citizen experience. Innovation and experimentation is needed to keep up and deliver what citizens now expect from their local government institutions.

We see more IT teams turn to innersourcing to work smarter with limited resources. Innersourcing makes the most of local councils’ own talent pool by unearthing skills they may not have realised they had in-house, and keeping intellectual property protected from possible external contractor churn.

Finding a senior champion

In order to take the leap into a full digital transformation, Matthew Schultz, City Digital Officer for the Ipswich City Council, recommends identifying an internal senior champion.  This may be the Mayor, a key councillor the head of the council – someone to help drive through a major change.

This is a sustained long term effort, so it requires getting the champion on board for two to three years worth of change, opening up more digital services, more openness to innovate and experiment. It is also important to eliminate the fear factor, by considering how contained and well-managed risks can limit the consequences of something going wrong.

Listen to citizen communities

As highlighted by Fresia Segovia, CIO for the Georges River Council, it is important to listen to citizens abourt what they need and expect from online services, and in particular which services they want to see with data integration links.

Citizen experience is ever-evolving and it is important to hear directly from residents and businesses on what they want to see from their local council online, and improvements needed.  As suggested by Segovia, having a dedicated ‘Have Your Say’ panel can be a fantastic conversation and transparency platform.

 Align internal teams

Aligning the broader organisation and IT teams on a desired trajectory and demonstrating how collaboration will meet both teams’ goals is also key to a successful innovation journey.

Georges River Council has fully embraced this approach, having set up a ‘Move to Improve Program’ and organising regular meetings with its management groups to undertake business analysis. Their approach is to show how partnering with technology can positively change business processes,and improve internal teams’ work-life balance. The council is working hard to understand pain-points, stay on top of any issues and maintain a constructive relationship to help deliver innovative projects.

Collaboration is what will drive the future change in government, and this is why an increasing number of councils around Australia are supporting and fostering a more collaborative approach to innovation and citizen experience transformation.

Local government institutions need to use the power of collaboration platforms and of the open source community to make inter-council and department conversations part of the broader government innovation culture. As the tech talent shortage is set to increase in the next coming years, in particular in areas such as security, data analysis and app development, it is also vital local councils use existing tech communities and talent around Australia, and around the world, to keep delivering on citizens’ growing digital expectations.

This is the first of a two-part series on improving the citizen experience in local government. The second in the series will run on Friday.

Sam Hunt is VP APAC, GitHub

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