IT industry association techUK has urged local government councillors to install digital leaders at cabinet level and open council data for local businesses.
It has highlighted the issues in a new paper, Council of the Future: A Digital Guide for Councillors, aimed at raising awareness of digital issues and encouraging elected members to become more involved in developing relevant policy.
Much of the paper is devoted to the basics of how digital technology and data can improve council services, illustrated by a series of case studies and with a guide to terminology; but it also outlines a number of steps to strengthen the ‘digital-first mindset’ within a local authority.
Among these is the creation of a formalised digital leadership structure in the form of a chief digital officer (CDO), digital champions or the establishment of a digital board. The paper says that if a CDO sits at board level they will be able to work with council heads of services and senior managers on a coherent strategy, champion smarter procurement and act as a main point of contact for the IT industry.
It points to the potential of working with technology suppliers through innovation days and pitch tests, encouraging collaboration and experimentation.
The paper also says elected members can work with officers and community partners, such as from schools and the voluntary sector, to tackle digital exclusion and give residents more choice in how they engage with public services.
techUK also gets behind the open data movement as a spur to innovation by technology companies. It says making the data available helps them to interpret problems and develop local solutions, and can allow citizens to use data to crowdsource insights and solve their own issues.
In addition, the paper includes a series of questions around digital technology for councillors to ask officers and colleagues.
Georgina Maratheftis, programme manager for local government at techUK, said: “By grasping the digital agenda and having a digital-first mindset, councillors can be at the forefront of spearheading the transformation of the area into a ‘smart community’ where citizens are empowered to shape services and create the places where they want to live.
“We hope this guide will act as a useful tool for both the new and incumbent councillors to have the right conversations about digital. The case studies in the guide show that digital is more than just achieving cost savings but about breaking down barriers; aiding collaboration and renewing local democracy and trust.”
Image by GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0