Embracing the new digital 'normal' in Local Government

Why Covid has broken the fear factor around digital transformation

This report was sponsored by HSO. The topic was agreed by LGC and HSO. The report was commissioned and edited by LGC. See LGCplus.com/guidelines for more information.

We’ve all embraced digital transformation ‘new normal’

Are we OK yet to be talking about ‘post pandemic’? Even though the vaccine rollout has made Covid-19 less directly threatening from a health and economic perspective, the uncertain picture as we look to the autumn means it is clear we – and local government in particular – are not out of the woods yet.

Equally, the myriad urgent challenges facing local authorities – everything from supporting the most vulnerable through to schools’ recovery, social deprivation and hollowed out high streets (to name but a few) – that have been amplified by the pandemic have not gone away.

Yet, without wanting to be too Churchillian about it, the weakening (if not yet severing) of the link between Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths means we can perhaps argue we are at the end of the beginning of the pandemic at least. This therefore makes it a good moment for local authorities to be taking stock and thinking: “What next?”

As this special supplement shows, this is a particularly pertinent question to be asking in the context of digital transformation. Local government has gone through a massive forced and accelerated digital revolution during the past 18 months.

Even though, initially, this was an in extremis response to an unfolding public health crisis, it is also clear there is much positive that has come out of the experience; much that can, potentially, be preserved and built upon in terms of improved operating models, service delivery and customer experience.

Moreover, the fact we have all of us – councils and communities – had to get used to and embrace new forms of digital working, engagement, collaboration and delivery means much of the ‘fear factor’ around this transition has disappeared. In fact, to an extent, citizens now expect to be able to engage and interact with their councils in these ‘new normal’ ways.

That is not to say there are not still significant challenges around digital transformation, not least digital inclusion, legacy systems, outdated (or out of reach) digital infrastructure, and the lack of joined-up-ness between local government, healthcare and the voluntary sector.

Yet, just as how we live day to day has been transformed by the pandemic, arguably so too has Covid-19 changed the digital agenda – most of all the digital ambition – for local government, perhaps permanently. And that may be no bad thing.

- Nic Paton, Commissioning editor