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How to juggle emergencies by doing one thing differently

Michael Lonnon
02 Jan, 2023

“If you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein

The world feels a bit like we’re in multiple emergency mode, doesn’t it? Some of the emergencies are traditional emergencies that are very short term, but others feel like we might be in emergency mode for a while.

The obvious one’s are that we’re still managing the COVID response. This while regaining business as usual to stimulate economic recovery. Then there’s inequality. And figuring out ways to support the climate agenda and reach carbon neutrality. This is all in the mix. Right now.

Each challenge carries a burden for every council. A burden with added weight when you consider that local authorities must always prioritise meeting the service needs of their citizens. So, where do you begin to tackle such colossal challenges?

Kill two (or more) birds with one stone

Sometimes there are things you can do that hit many goals. This requires you to find the sweet spot where the projects and work you’re prioritising, align to those goals. In a recent podcast with Ealing London Borough Council’s Chief Executive, Paul Najsarek, he identified this as an approach he has used to good effect.

“If we are able to stimulate the green economy locally, and we do that thoughtfully, it’ll help the climate agenda, it can help people in terms of economic recovery, and if we get the jobs and skills packages right, it can also help inequality, all at the same time.”

Paul Najsarek Chief Executive

Not everything can be done like this. But the more energy you can focus on things that hit many goals, the better. And technology can be used to good effect in making those connections.

Dealing with each challenge is the sum of all the parts

With challenges of such size, no council can achieve them alone. You need partners. And you need technology that improves collaboration. And so, one of the first priorities becomes identifying the right partners to guide you on your technology path.

Considering the right partners and technology mix is part business process, part customer experience, and part data insight. It’s useful to remember that each of the aforementioned challenges is systemic, which is why you need many players, with technology binding them together to create collaborative teams.

Understanding the wider value of technology can also help identify how it can address wide-ranging challenges, as Paul went on to say:

“With new technology, there’s collaboration, efficiency, effectiveness and inclusion. That’s the four areas where technology can make a big difference.

The approach Ealing London Borough Council has taken to the adoption of new technology is a business one: “I look at technology as an asset I can deploy towards the purpose we’re trying to hit.” Rather than buy technology and find a use for it, the Ealing team identify challenges to goals, before finding the technology best suited to overcome them.

Bear in mind budget constraints remain and so the efficiency challenge never wanes. This is one of the first things to consider when identifying how technology can help you do things better.

Digital inclusion over digital exclusion

Quite often, when you mention technology, people talk about digital exclusion. Advancements in capabilities, functionality, and features, risk leaving workers and citizens feeling ‘behind the times’ and unable to keep up. And that’s a valid point. But technology offers more opportunities for inclusion than it does the risks of exclusion, as Paul highlighted. “A simple example is we’re now doing all our council meetings, and all our public engagements, in hybrid format.”

Running meetings in a hybrid format expands reach and accessibility, improving community connection and conversation. “We’re getting lots more people participating in the council processes and conversations than before. It doesn’t mean we should be blind to risks of exclusion, but we should embrace the opportunities for inclusion.” This is digital inclusion over exclusion.

So, finding ways to tackle many challenges in a single initiative – whether this be a technology led initiative or not – is Paul’s advice for success, but there is one further ingredient he advocates.

Giving local councils the power

The world feels like it’s in multiple emergency mode was something Paul mentioned. And many of those emergencies will be around for a while. The approach Paul, and the team at Ealing London Borough Council, has taken to working through them, is to deliver initiatives that address multiple goals in one go. Using technology to underpin those efforts. But Paul also believes tackling the challenges faced requires something more.

“Empowerment to places is the single most important thing for the future of public services. I accept governments have a role in setting frameworks and resources, sometimes we do need a national strategy for things, but the only place where you can assemble the team, you can assemble the technology, you can assemble the processes and you can assemble the partners is in a place.”

Empower places to figure out how to get things done because local authorities are the one’s operating in the heart of communities. Giving councils the power and autonomy to make decisions, direct resources, and tackle the many challenges faced.

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