A survey of 2,000 homeowners has revealed positive levels of engagement between Australians and their local councils, but identifies the lack of two-way digital channels as a barrier for people wanting to share feedback or feel heard.
Coinciding with the government formulating its Data and Digital Government Strategy, the research, commissioned by Datacom, aimed to discover how well connected Australians feel to their local government.
The findings discovered that while over half of Australians (54 per cent) report feeling engaged with their local council, just 35 per cent feel heard and only 37 per cent feel their feedback is valued.
Councils are largely seen to be getting it right when it comes to the information they provide, with 3 out of 4 (73 per cent) Australians finding communications from their local council useful, and 60 per cent feeling their council communicates well during times of crisis – including extreme weather events, flooding and bush fires.
There is, however, strong demand for more relevant timely information on local road closures, construction works, and community events.
The research found that Australians are ready for a digital-first government. Two-way digital channels are shown to have significant potential to address concerns over being better heard and feedback more valued, with 57 per cent of survey respondents reporting they would engage with council issues more if they could do it digitally, and 67 per cent of respondents saying they would use an app if available.
Key areas of opportunity for councils to provide digital channels or service options that were identified included making payments (50 per cent), submitting and processing permit and license applications (41 per cent) and making facility bookings (34 per cent).
Digital channels also have the potential to increase awareness of the facilities and services that councils provide to their communities with 44 per cent of respondents reporting they were not aware of the full range of services their council provides.
Levels of council engagement did vary across the states – respondents from Victoria were the least engaged, with just 68 per cent reporting feeling aware of and engaged with their local council services, and Western Australian respondents were the most engaged, with 78 per cent reporting feeling connected to their council.
Datacom Director of Local Government and MD SaaS Products, Peter Nelson, said that overall, the survey results show positive levels of engagement between local councils and the Australian communities they are serving.
“The notable gap is the ability for people to share and receive information from their council in a more immediate way, and for this to be a two-way channel that enables feedback,” Mr Nelson said.
“Small changes can make a big difference in whether people feel they are being listened to. Working with our council partners, we’ve seen the positive impact that digital tools like Datascape are having in terms of enabling staff and customers to interact and access information digitally in more practical ways.”