The many technological developments together with the transparency of Internet & social media mean that society is changing rapidly. This has a major impact on the government organisation, certainly in contact with the citizen. It requires a transformation of the organisation and its strategy in which the citizen is central and digital thinking within the organisation is commonplace.
During the Logeion meeting on the 23rd of May in The Hague, David Kok and Ewoud de Voogd made a strong cross. In their book ‘Van buiten naar binnen’ (From outside to inside) they go into subjects such as the organizational structure of the municipality in the field of customer contact, new tasks, roles and activities including participation.
Nevertheless, it is understandable that the professionals do not immediately go into the starting blocks unconditionally. This may depend, for example, on the current situation within the municipality. A municipality has only just started implementing the newsroom, so that offers possibilities, or a municipality is already very far with the implementation of the newsroom within the organisation. Moreover, not every municipality is the same when it comes to culture, size and location. And do new emerging technologies such as blockchain need to be taken into account and what are the consequences for the contact between the citizen and the municipality?
At the end of the day it’s all about making the right combinations.
Suppose, in case there is a backlog (e.g. no newsroom yet), a municipality has to turn it into an advantage by, for example, using big data together with artificial intelligence. What in the area of customer contact can then lead to the deployment of chatbots that can learn, ‘think’, to help citizens quickly, personally and correctly: no more ‘We are available on working days from …’. A chatbot can learn everything. It learns from the conversations it has and when integrated with a customer contact system it quickly becomes smarter. By the way, the chatbot doesn’t have to replace employees, but gives them time and space for personal contact and complicated issues.
But also the set-up & deployment of the chatbot takes time because a chatbot has to learn skills and not master them all from the beginning. So it is worthwhile to think about this now, and make a decision about it within the foreseeable future. And what is expected of the blockchain technology, for example, and does such a choice fit well or not. Moreover, the use of a chatbot can run parallel to other developments within the municipality.
Role of the communication professional
Such considerations can simply not be made within the organization by a communication professional alone. However, the communication professional can advise and help decide on a strategic level.
This professional, including the department, can also play a core role in another challenge, namely ensuring digital thinking within the organisation. Digital thinking therefore, regardless of all current or future organizational and technological developments that influence the contact with the citizen. An additional advantage in this respect is that in time the implementation of new technology and the associated transformation of the organisation will be easier to achieve and more widely supported.
A number of starting points are important here so that from ‘tomorrow’ onwards the practical implementation can be started by means of tailor-made programmes.
First of all: online = offline. These are no longer separate worlds but are constantly intertwined. It’s about finding clever combinations that meet the wishes and demands of the citizen as well as those of the organisation.
In second place: perception = key. Perception is about the relationship between expectation and experience of the citizen in contact with the municipality and its products/services. Very important in the perception in the contact is the context (time & environment: e.g. social, work, on the road). As far as expectation is concerned, the book ‘From outside to inside’ has already done preliminary work on the basis of research.
Thirdly the focus in the communication of the brand, the municipality, shifts from promise to evidence. All stakeholders of the (data-driven) organization should be aware of this.
Moreover, with the increase and use of technology, it becomes increasingly important to also focus on the humanity of the brand, the municipality.
What does that mean for the practical feasibility of ensuring digital thinking throughout the organisation?
- Determine what the organization wants to achieve on the basis of promise, desired culture.
- Then map out the expectations and desired experience, taking into account the context! In contact with certain target groups, interests can sometimes also play a role.
- Learning to get inside the mind of the citizen who is in contact with a certain expectation or who is looking for contact with the organisation; again taking the context into account.
- Sit at the table with the communication department as early as possible in projects within the entire organization to coordinate how and why the contact with the citizen takes place.
- By means of open communication, make this transparent and accessible for everyone within the organization.
- Regularly keep everyone within the organization up to date on the technology used or to be used (within projects) in contact with the citizen.
Perhaps the most important thing is to have realised a different, digital mindset with the entire organization by 2025, in which perception and focus on evidence have become commonplace and the human dimension has not been lost. So not with one person in function or a department responsible for this, but with the entire organization.