Council of the Future: Is there a role for AI?

Local Government office with lots of people using computers and AI in shot

Written by Georgina Maratheftis, Local Government Programme Manager at techUK

A familiar and well-rehearsed narrative for local government is that it is increasingly fragmented and hard to navigate. While this is true, local government is unique in the number of lines of business it operates from zoo licenses to waste congestion! Furthermore, managing demand and rising expectations at a continued time of financial constraints is no easy feat, and as such councils are embracing and seeing digital as an enabler to doing things differently to deliver more efficient services and improve outcomes for citizens.

Even though artificial intelligence (AI) is still a rather nascent market for public sector, local government is leading the way in its adoption and understanding its value in transforming services for citizens and reimagining service. Enfield Council introduced an AI-based chatbot to simplify internal processes and help residents complete standard applications. Aylesbury Vale District Council has also turned to AI to boost customer service. It has introduced a service that learns from previous council residents’ conversations and can improve council response time to resident queries on services, such as council tax, benefit and bin collection.

The more progressive councils will see AI technology as an opportunity to reimagine how future services can be delivered as well as gain value in:

  • Reducing demand on services
  • Improving efficiencies
  • Enhancing the customer experience
  • Driving better decision making from data insights

AI can help reduce demand, meet rising citizen expectations whilst also freeing up employees time to focus on other key areas. It’s not the case of AI technology displacing a team or service but complementing it to truly be user-centric. We live in a more digitised society and citizens will expect to interact with their local public services as they do in their social lives. Chatbots, for example, can help provide a good customer experience by enabling citizens to engage with a local public service out of hours.

AI can also enable a more data-driven council and make services more predictive. Hackney Council, for example, has launched the Early Help Predictive System that uses artificial intelligence to identify families that may benefit from extra support from the government. Its goal is to provide support to families that need them as early as possible to prevent the need for high-cost and high-risk services later on.

While the pace of change maybe slightly slower in public sector, it is definitely an exciting time in local government digital transformation. The question is how do we now move from the proof of concepts to scaling up the use of AI? A sentiment recognised in the recent Smart London Plan, which articulated the ambition of  how London can become be the global home to artificial intelligence to make London a better place to live  and for the improvement of citizen-centric city services.

As outlined above AI has plenty of benefits for the workplace and citizens alike. It’s not about adopting the latest shiny toy but helping solve a problem and improving the lives of citizens; and AI can have an enabling role in achieving this for local government today and for the ‘council of the future.’

 

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