The UK is on the verge of a widespread and sustained moment of local innovation. A recent report from Public found that ‘UrbanTech’ – new digital technologies, provided by small, dynamic companies – has the potential to not only deliver faster, more user-centred local services for citizens, but may also provide an important solution in navigating the increasing budgetary pressure to be faced by councils in coming years.
But in what key areas are local councils currently innovating? In this article, we examine five new trends in UrbanTech and local innovation.
Imagine if when designing a new transport hub, local planners had access to years of traffic flow information, commuter patterns, air quality ratings, and lists of business and shops in the local area. Or that a care worker when referred a vulnerable child could instantly see the medical records, school reports and relevant family history or police reports. Advances in ‘joined up’ data allow these solutions and more, and the most digitally-savvy local authorities, such as Camden and GMCA, are already taking steps to toward employing a ‘big data’ approach.
Deploying an innovative data approach means scaling the challenge of fragmentation. As The Rise of UrbanTech highlights, “data about one citizen can exist on up to 30 separate databases with no unique identifier (such as a National Insurance number, passport or NHS number) to connect them.” However as the value of joined up approaches becomes increasingly apparent, more and more councils are investing in smarter approaches to data.
Alongside data management, councils capacity for gathering relevant data is also poised for a moment of sharp growth. IoT or ‘Internet of Things’ is a byword in public sector innovation for application such as sensors that can gather real time information on a relevant subject matter.
Councils, such as Milton Keynes, are already employing IoT devices to measure everything from moisture levels to the structural integrity of buildings. The increasing adoption of low cost sensors could even further accelerate local government’s ability to gather information – for themselves or from private sector providers – with a vast array of time & labour saving applications.
User-centred design–the creation of products and services with the user in mind–is nothing new; and local councils are increasingly employing a ‘know your customer’ approach to digital initiatives. This attitude shift has lead local authorities to the incorporation of co-creation and prototype testing into design processes.
A string of software solution companies are increasingly working alongside local councils in providing services to rival private sector equivalents. Still more work needs to be done, but important strides are being made towards digital, user-centred local government.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning.
Although artificial intelligence may not have reached Terminator or Her levels yet, its current application can play a major role in automating time-consuming, high-volume tasks. The government recently announced an Office for AI, and local councils such as Enfield are increasingly employing AI and machine learning to enhance services such as voice recognition.
Artificial intelligence can deliver accurate and increasingly sophisticated analysis faster. A recent report from Deloitte estimated that up to 85% of businesses could invest in AI by 2020 – local councils look set to be part of this transformation.
As diverse and increasingly sophisticated channels of communication emerge through digital technology, local councils are now looking for new means to engage with their citizens. Mobile reporting tools and customer service dashboards are allowing an ever increasing flow of information between service users and service providers. The result is better informed citizens and councils with a greater understanding of their constituents wants and needs.
The West Midlands Combined Authority and Public are currently searching for innovative citizen engagement solutions as part of the Urban Challenge. To find out more information, visit the Urban Challenge website.
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