Novoville Blog: Using tech to find out residents concerns and priorities fast during Coronavirus

CCN Blogs | 02 September 2020

The government sector can be proud of its achievements during the initial three months of the Coronavirus pandemic. Through hard work, dedication and a willingness to do things differently, many local authorities have managed to support their local communities in ways which were considered impractical or unthinkable even just weeks prior to the outbreak.

Throughout this time, we at Novoville continued to work with local authorities to deploy citizen-centric technology which addresses the immediate needs of councils and residents alike. You can take a look at the volunteering application we designed and launched for Kirklees Council in association with Peopletoo, which was backed by NHSx’s TechForce19 challenge, as an example.

Yet, now that the immediate crisis has passed, the abundance of news, analysis and opinion on the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for policy-makers to design a response appropriate for their local communities. Are residents confident enough to take public transport? What are their main worries and concerns as they try to rebuild their worlds? Do they feel closer or more distant from their community? Answers to these questions aren’t evenly distributed throughout the nation, go beyond traditional political beliefs, and evolve quickly. It became apparent that a dearth of data was becoming a hindrance to councils’ decision-making, and there was a need to cut through the noise.

To address this, East Sussex County Council teamed up with Novoville with the goal of generating a lot of fresh data – and fast – about local residents’ feelings, priorities and concerns. Through chatbots distributed on Social Media, by local MPs, councillors, partners, and through the East Sussex website and East Sussex Together newsletter, the response was phenomenal (more than 10,000 respondents within only 2 weeks). With “natural language processing” technology, free responses could be classified and taken into account at over 100 times the speed of previous efforts. In a matter of days, specific policy recommendations could be made to council leaders.

What did we learn about local priorities and concerns in East Sussex? First, that financial stress was, beyond immediate health concerns, a most salient feeling. It was also clear that this disproportionately impacted women. Such results were confirmed when asking what residents’ priorities are in the short term: improving the local economy came out on top, and financial support was cited as the number one expectation from the government. Beyond this, it is clear that a majority of people still don’t feel safe enough to take public transport, particularly the elderly community, and only a small minority would currently consider sending relatives to care homes. On sending kids back to schools, results are more evenly split. On social distancing measures, there also was significant division on whether more easing, or more restrictions, were appropriate.

Still, the consultation highlighted some positives. More people felt like the pandemic had brought them closer to people than further away. Thousands of residents expressed an interest in volunteering and taking on a bigger role in their local area. Reaching out to others was highlighted as a major behavioural change by residents themselves. To strengthen community resilience and meet this unprecedented challenge, it is clear that residents are an integral part of the solution. Through technology-enabled initiatives, councils can harvest this momentum. East Sussex fed results back to the community in a matter of days and harvested nearly a thousand extra subscribers to their newsletter. For more details on those results, visit this webpage on East Sussex County Council’s website.

The crisis, by forcing local governments to reorganise to meet demand, has provided them with an opportunity. Three ingredients needed for successful innovation are now present. First, important demand for and from local residents. Second, the appropriate technology is now available at minimal cost, allowing residents to raise their concerns, feed back their views and change council focus in an agile way to meet citizen needs. Last but not least, there is now the urgency to do so. The speed at which local authorities have adapted is proof that change is possible. There’s a new élan within councils. Let’s capitalise on that!

Louis Daillencourt
Business Development Director





To learn more about how Novoville is supporting local authorities, please visit: