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Will the "Digital Democracy" help councils save money?

The Local Government Information Unit have produced a report on digital communication strategies in local government. It suggests that Twitter has a long way to go. While residents want information quickly and effectively from their council this is overwhelmingly something they rely on email for - less than 1% of the
population follow their council on Twitter.

So email is the most effective but councils should provide a free subscription service for email alerts where residents can indicate the sort of thing they are interested in. Parents will be interested in school closures, motorists will be interested in road closures, etc, etc.

But broadening a local council's involvement with social media is still regarded as having great potential for making bureaucrats and councillors more responsive to the ideas and needs of residents. The problem is often council staff are banned from using Facebook at work:

There are also many internal barriers yet to overcome – less than 50 per cent of council staff can access social media from their desktop, only 22 per cent agree that they have the skills to respond effectively to the rising digital expectations and just less than a third believe their IT infrastructure is suitable for a ‘digital by default’ method of service delivery. Today, we remain some way from realising the full potential of the new engagement opportunities that social technology is opening up for us.

I certainly think councils can get an awful lot of unpaid work from their residents which is given very willingly and of great value. In my borough we are looking forward to having Boris Bikes and recently asked for nominations for potential docking stations - we got a terrific response.

UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox says that “we lead the world with the highest percentage of internet users with broadband connections” – currently at 82.5 per cent of the UK population. Makes you proud to be British.

The point about  saving money, of course, is reducing "avoidable contact time."

This example is given:

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s BwD Winter page “provides a winter service from October through to March”. By the end of the winter 2011, posts were receiving 4,000 views and subsequent examination of year on year call centre activity revealed a drop of 10,000 in incoming calls compared to the same period in previous years.

BwD Winter demonstrates the scalable impact of such issue-focused initiatives. Residents have been using it throughout the spring and summer to post further queries about local services.

Resident: anyone know if the tip is open in Darwen off watery lane?

BwD Winter: Hi, the tip is open every day except New Year's Day.

Progress in this area is one of many examples of how spending can be reduced while the service is improved.


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