Councillors are not ‘digital dinosaurs’, research says

New research published by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) investigates for the first time the attitudes and perceptions of local elected representatives on digital technology, governance and leadership in their authorities.

Author, Cllr Theo Blackwell, gathered data from over 800 elected councillors across England, to give a unique insight into digital leadership and the potential sleeping giant that local public services represent both for reform and the growth of markets for solutions to public service challenges.

Start of the Possible found that local councillors are not ‘digital dinosaurs’: whether veteran or first-term; metropolitan or district; leadership or non-executive; they hold strong and positive views about technology, automation and data and how public services can benefit from them. However, for a small and vociferous cohort, digital exclusion and the fear of the digital divide is a major issue. While this challenge does not stop change, it may impede progress or the pace of change.


Number one issue

Tackling digital exclusion is still the number one issue now and for the future amongst councillors. Connectivity also remains a concern and there was a strong and widespread view that current data-sharing arrangements are not effective.

The survey found that there is clear backing for digital to be included in thinking around devolution and a thirst for councillors to be better supported to understand more about technology and transformation in all its forms.

LGIU and Cllr Blackwell, funded by the Sandy Bruce Lockhart scholarship, undertook this primary research to understand the views of local government political leadership on the impact of digital transformation on public services.  Further detail below.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGiU, said: “Much has been written about the shift to digital in local government and public services more generally. Such a shift represents an opportunity, almost uniquely, to drive down costs while simultaneously improving outcomes. But that’s not just a question of doing the same things better online, it’s about using digital as a way of thinking and connecting, of driving a cultural and relational attitude that changes how we think about what local government does and how it interacts with the communities it serves.

Start of the Possible makes an important contribution to this conversation by explicitly focusing on digital leadership, including a national survey of councillors which reveals their real attitudes to digital local government.

“LGIU has been pleased to support this research along with Essex, Kent and East Sussex county councils as part of the Bruce Lockhart member scholarship, a programme in memory of the late Sandy Bruce Lockhart which seeks to encourage and celebrate leadership and innovation in and from elected members.”

Blackwell added: “Successful digital transformation requires redesign on every level — workforce, customer service, process, governance  and technology — to make public services faster at doing things, more adaptable, able to share more information and do so securely.

“For this to happen we need to support digital leadership right across our cities and counties in order to make public services more effective and make a difference to the people and communities they represent.

“This research shows that the vast majority of councillors are not ‘digital dinosaurs’, but hold positive views about the application of technology to public services and how councils should work together and share data.

“We need to translate that into action. There is a good foundation built by those leading councils who have set out bold digital plans. There is now a need for proper co-ordination between authorities supported by a new deal with Whitehall.”

The full report can be viewed here.

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