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MAV Opinion Editorial – Councils delivering in a digital world

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Over the last six months, most, if not all, of us have become more reliant on technology to do our jobs, connect with loved ones and access goods and services. Video-calls and conferencing have become a daily activity for many, offering a vital opportunity to work and see the faces of our colleagues, family and friends. The fact the pandemic hit at a time of digital innovation and fast-moving technological development is one small mercy.

Of course, this increased dependence on technology has also brought to light key gaps in our digital world, service provision and prompted consideration of new challenges and possibilities. PwC’s recent report ‘Where next for accelerated digitalisation and data resilience’ shows the pandemic has fast-tracked the digital-first approach in Australia. Almost overnight, COVID-19 created a burning platform for organisations to prioritise and accelerate digital solutions.

As providers of critical community services and managers of billions of dollars’ worth of public infrastructure, councils too have had to accelerate their investigation and adoption of different technologies. From supporting staff to work from home, to shifting services such as maternal and child health appointments online, councils have been quick to adopt different solutions. The online streaming of services such as library Storytime sessions, community fitness classes, and business networking sessions have become “business as usual” across local government.

Beyond the various initiatives triggered as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, councils have a strong track record of actively seeking out digital solutions to improve community and organisational outcomes and to reduce cost.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has long recognised the important role technology can play in enhancing council and community services, and in 2004 established MAV Technology. Funded by member councils, MAV Technology provides councils with an important platform to share ideas, resources and experience, as well as undertake collaborative procurement and projects to improve efficiency.

In seeking out new solutions, councils are working to address a range of different challenges. Through its Connecting Corangamite initiative, the large rural Corangamite Shire Council provided staff with access to the equipment and services needed to feel connected, engaged and part of the organisation regardless of the physical location of their worksite. During the pandemic, the project has enabled unexpected benefits including virtual tours of kindergartens and childcare facilities, and engagement of community members previously resistant to digital service delivery and communications.

The City of Greater Geelong’s Data Exchange was developed with the aim of designing a platform to securely store and  share data. In making data freely accessible to citizens, businesses, entrepreneurs and students, new ideas, applications and solutions are being generated. MAV Technology is currently working with the City, other councils and industry partners to explore how we might establish a data exchange across multiple councils that supports decision-making for COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Alpine Shire Council’s Project Pinnacle brought together the rural councils of Alpine, Indigo and Towong to identify a modern, cloud-based enterprise system that could be implemented across all three councils.

Southern Grampians Shire Council’s Digital Innovation Smart Agriculture Festival is a digital transformation, smart community-based festival aimed at regional and rural councils and their communities. The program engages agricultural workers, youth, councils and local businesses to embrace technology to deliver better outcomes.

These are only a few examples of the terrific work happening within councils.

Now more than ever we know technological innovation is critical to adapt to changing circumstances and to realise new opportunities and efficiencies.

While we know technology can never replace the true joy and sense of wellbeing that comes from meeting in person, we will, as a sector, continue to seek solutions that deliver better outcomes for our communities.

Cr Coral Ross
MAV President

This Opinion Editorial was published on 12 September and appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard.