How Covid Is Transforming Public Engagement Through Technology
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How Covid Is Transforming Public Engagement Through Technology

Susie Faulkner, Transformation Programme Director, London Borough of Havering

Susie Faulkner, Transformation Programme Director, London Borough of Havering

Covi19 has propelled a revolution in the way we work and interact with our communities. The change has been substantial and, while the infrastructure and practices we used in the past have been adapted to meet the emergency, we recognise that there is a need – and an appetite – for significant, rapid movement to embed sustainable change, enabling us to thrive and for our organisations to work and cooperate with our communities, businesses and residents in new ways.

We need to move to being fully outcomes focussed and evidenceled in our decision-making. This requires us to be obsessive about data and be able to analyse, interpret and interrogate it, to develop insights that ensure decision making is appropriately targeted, informed and can be tracked and measured and that we use that data to engage with our communities to support insight and their local lived experience. By working in a more engaged way, we are able to exploit agile approaches to piloting changes, prove what works quickly, fail fast and build on successes.

We know communities can offer a significant resource from their lived experience - and have insight into opportunities and impacts, when we start to re-think the nature of the public sector in a postCovid19 world. Digital offers potential for people to get involved in policymaking, planning and budgeting, and this could help us make smarter and more democratic decisions based on extremely local need. Examples include participatory budgeting and the development of community visions and action plans.

To do this, data needs to be clean, robust, easy to access and easy to share – and we are more focussed on platforms and systems for collaboration and engagementare being designed to be simple and intuitive to use, easy to navigate and reward users with a positive experience and realising channel shift that is rapid, sustained and enhances our relationships with our communities.

“Traditionally, community engagement has been confined to charities or interest groups lobbying city governments, or active residents who have the time to attend community meetings”

Communities have surprised us with their ambitions for a collaborative economy: locally,connecting distributed groups of people, using the internet and technology, to make better use of goods, skills and space, is fast becoming a practical reality. For example:

 • Better use of digital tools that help people make better use of unused and underused public buildings & spaces as resources to exploit for business and communities who operate on alimited budgets.

 • As community leaders, we can encourage residents who own items that they rarely use and which can be treasure for someone else. Facilitating such exchange can be achieved by the use of peer to peer platforms like ZipCar and Paperclip.

Traditionally, community engagement has been confined to charities or interest groups lobbying city governments, or active residents who have the time to attend community meetings. During the first lockdown, many Councils found that they could crowdsource policy making in an agile, iterative way – particularly in response to the humanitarian effort needed during April and May.

 Covid-19 has given us the chance to use digital technologies to expand the number of people we engage with and what we engage them on – this has included everything from putting public services online to citizen participation in decision-making. We have an opportunity now to use virtual community hubs and other tools to promote online collaboration and create more innovative ways of engaging citizens in addressing Borough challenges.

From the tragedy of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to reset engagement and it is important for those of us passionate about the value of Digital to seize the moment.

Weekly Brief

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