Friday, March 1, 2024

New year – new wish list for local councils

OP ED by Datacom Director Local Government, Peter Nelson.

Local councils can forget about discounted gym memberships and fridge-magnet calendars with rubbish and recycling dates, it turns out the New Year’s wish list for ratepayers is better digital tools and simpler communication with the local government teams who represent them.

Local tech company, Datacom, works with more than 115 councils across Australia, which
has given the team and Datacom Director of Local Government, Peter Nelson, significant
insights into the challenges local government organisations face and what local stakeholders are asking for from their councils.

One of the top ‘wish list’ items for ratepayers is an easier way to book council facilities.
A recent survey of 2,000 homeowners*, commissioned by Datacom to better understand
how connected Australians feel to their local government, found that two thirds (66%) of
respondents would use council facilities more often if there was a way to book them online or via an app. This was especially the case for 85% of Gen-Z and Millennials, providing a
significant engagement opportunity with often illusive young generations.

Latrobe Council is one of the local government organisations that has responded to this
demand and the facilities at its new Banksia Centre can all be reviewed and booked online.

Another top wish list items for council stakeholders and communities is easier ways to communicate and share feedback with councils.

Over the past few years there has been a transition away from people interacting with their councils over the front counter or the phone towards digital channels, but the demand for these channels is now accelerating.

The same survey of ratepayers found that Gen Z and Millennials led the way in calling for
digital-first government channels that facilitate two-way conversations (66% and 68%
respectively). An overwhelming three-quarters of each of these groups said they’d use an
app for this if available.  

Tasmania’s Central Coast Council has recently implemented a two-way communications tool called Antenno which allows the council to push out timely messages about service times and – crucially – allows the community to report issues and seek information at a time that
suits them.

“We liked the idea of providing our customers with an easier way to tell us about things that needed to happen throughout the municipal area,” says Samantha Searle, Director of
Corporate Services at the Council.

“We knew we needed another way to provide better communication on changes to service levels, for example.

“Councils are seeing citizens across all age bands increasingly looking for more efficient, easier ways to pay rates, register dogs and provide feedback or log an enquiry, and people also want to be able to do that in their own time,” says Nelson. 

Many local government organisations are also facing increased pressure on resourcing and funding and Nelson says there is a clear directive “to do more with less” in almost every conversation with councils. 

“While there are many ways to approach resourcing, digital systems are a smart and effective way to boost staff productivity and free up people to focus on more meaningful
interactions with the communities that councils serve.”

The different types of council work and mobile services they provide also lend themselves to digital platforms.

“We’re seeing interest in systems that give mobile field workers access to data where and when they need it, even if they’re offline, such as building inspectors, dog control, parking officers or fire control officers checking berms and planting to ensure it aligns with council
policy, for example.”

Looking ahead to 2024, the wish lists for ratepayers are going to require councils and local government to take a look at their digital platforms and identify the tools their teams can introduce to simplify interactions with stakeholders.
 
*Antenna, an independent consumer research agency on behalf of Datacom, conducted an
online AntennaPoll survey of n=2000 Australian ratepayers, evenly split n=400 across the
five mainland states. The survey was conducted from 9–15 June 2023. The survey data
collection was national, and respondents were sourced using an accredited online research
access panel. Data was weighted for representation against the 2021 Australian census.

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