Post-COVID: re-organising localism around three digital principles

Mark Thompson is a Professor of Digital economy at the Exeter INDEX Centre. In this blog he puts forward three digital principles for how local organisations such as councils can reorganise post COVID-19.

Recently, I keynoted a senior leadership session for Birmingham City Council. The session was for leaders, councillors, and senior executives – about 35 in total – to discuss post-COVID re-organisation and management.

We discussed a range of pressing issues confronting the Council. These included: data trusts, data security, supply chain resilience, efficiencies, and cross-silo collaboration. But the highlight for me was the opportunity to make an important suggestion. As Birmingham Council starts to shape itself in response to a post-COVID future, it could consider fairly radical reform, to be firmly data-driven across all its activities. In practice, this means a fairly radical re-imagination of the Council’s purpose – reframing to see itself as a decentralised brokerage for both citizens as well as providers. With this sort of vision, Birmingham could play the central role in catalysing the exchange of diverse forms of social and economic value across the community.

Reframing to see itself as a decentralised brokerage for both citizens and providers

Should Birmingham decide to think along these lines in a committed way, I suggested that they enshrine three ‘design principles’ throughout:

  1. a resolute focus on becoming a data-driven council
  2. designing themselves architecturally to enable ‘accessibility’ (an open, API-driven, and collaborative service model)
  3. ‘leveraging’ cloud-based utilities and services wherever possible (or appropriate). This is far preferable to trying to develop and deliver everything themselves.

As a key enabler for some of this activity, I separated out some of the key ‘emerging tech’ that feeds on data, in the cloud, into:

  1. ‘Efficiency-related tech’: good for reducing process-heavy activities (e.g. process automation, optical character recognition, natural language processing)
  2. ‘Intelligence-related tech’ (e.g. AI, machine learning, data science utilities)
  3. ‘Connective tech’ (e.g. IoT).

I encouraged the Council to make maximum use of these. They can be cheap to deploy, if you architect your services correctly.

This is an example of the kind of discussions that councils across the country should be having – and that many already are. We’re all seeing first hand the power of digital technologies at this time. With a little guidance, councils could deploy these technologies. A redesigned, more modular architecture could explicitly seek to take advantage of these.

Such a shift would have the effect of improving their services. They would become much more intelligence-driven. The council would be configured around citizens’ needs, whilst also saving time and money.

This blog originally appeared on the INDEX website


Professor Mark ThompsonProfessor Mark Thompson is Professor of Digital Economy from the Initiative in the Digital Economy at Exeter (INDEX)  at the University of Exeter Business School.