COVID-19 may have pushed local governments to move many operations and services online, but the public appetite for this shift was already strong.
“In a digitised world, people want to be interacting with council at any time of the day, including after hours,” says Sarelle Sinclair, Senior Business Services Officer at Tablelands Regional Council in Far North Queensland.
Today’s citizens want to be able to resolve their own issues online, without speaking to multiple parties or navigating confusing websites. When they do need to get in touch with council, they expect a fast response on a channel of their choice – they won’t stand for lining up at an enquiries desk or joining a call queue to solve simple problems.
“While smart cities are still a pipe dream, smart citizens are here today,” says Stephen Yarwood. “And the way they live and work is transforming our cities, states and nations.”
But as community expectations rise, the budgets to meet them aren’t keeping pace. As inner-city areas become more populous and urban sprawl sees formerly rural or industrial areas rezoned for residential purposes, population pressures are stretching the capabilities of councils with budgets designed for another era. Rural and regional councils, too, are facing falling revenue from declining populations, making it hard to refresh outdated infrastructure and maintain consistent, high-quality services.
As a result, many councils are so busy seeing to lengthy backlogs of renewals that taking proactive steps towards a citizen-centric future feels like a task for another day. But as residents, ratepayers and council employees become increasingly connected, that day is approaching at high velocity.