Councillor dogma ‘proving a hurdle to channel shift’

Encouraging councillors to use social media channels via tablets can help reduce barriers to the implementation of councils’ digital first strategies, according to a new report.

A white paper released by customer engagement consultancy Kana says that resistance from decision makers, including councillors and departmental heads, is among the biggest barriers to shifting services online.

The report argued that  key decision makers must be made an integral part of strategies to channel shift in order for it to succeed.

It said: “One specific technique that has worked to get elected officials on board for some public sector organizations has been to expand the scope of the digital first strategy to include elected officials  as part of the actual strategy by empowering them to work more closely with the public via the use  of the channel devices, such as iPads, and through more consultation via digital channels, such as forums and Facebook. “

The report added that pilot projects for channel shift could help quash misconceptions among decision makers that digital channels will help citizens.

One common misconception, it said, is that citizens in deprived areas will not, or cannot, use digital services.

The report said: “This is sometimes driven by a focus on household broadband connectivity, which  tends to be lower in deprived areas.               

“However, this ignores the fact that many citizens in these  same areas have smartphones which are of course web-enabled, which has been borne out by targeted pilots that demonstrated 70% and higher levels of channel shift in such areas.”

Councillors and department heads are likely to feel the impacts of digital strategies keenly, so pilots must define clear outcomes up front, with appropriate measurements to enable clear reporting.

According to Kana, responsive web design techniques should be used to ensure that online services work properly on all devices.

In addition, it said that customer identification verification should only be required for customers wanting to access secure information, such as council tax details.

It said: “Customers wishing to report a problem such as a pothole or broken streetlight – typically viewed as having the lowest business level impact – should not be subjected to an identity verification.”

And it added that the “jury is still out” on whether the government’s digital service identity assurance programme would succeed where previous similar attempts have failed.

David Moody, head of worldwide product strategy at Kana said: “With widespread use of the internet and mobile technologies, digital customers have come to rely on these devices for their dealings with commercial organisations and now expect to be able to do the same in their dealings with the public sector. 

“While most public sector organisations have implemented some form of ‘channel shift’ strategy, most would say they have not met their intended economic outcomes.”

Colin Marrs

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