The Connected Society

Work in progress

The Connected Society

The last nine months of Covid-19 induced lockdowns has served as a stress test without parallel for our social infrastructure and fabric.  We have learned the limits and extent of the central state’s ability to command and control from Whitehall and the inner-resilience and capacity of the local and hyperlocal to persevere and intuitively innovate on the ground – in many cases without instructions or funding. 

Much like common sense being unfortunately uncommon in practice, lessons learned are seldom heeded. If there is to be any true value from our experience, to transform the scarring and poison of our pandemic experience into wisdom and medicine it is this.  It lies in making copper bottom sure that the spirit of community we have seen in the crisis and the new opportunities of technology to make a more connected society are rigorously and ruthlessly followed up for the sake of improving people’s lives everywhere in England. 

Localis’s research project, The Connected Society, will work in collaboration with partnering councils to investigate lessons learned from the pandemic, and beyond this to examine the potential of digital technologies to boost civic awareness and community participation to enhance the reform in the delivery of human-centred local public services.

In the delivery of local public services, the twin pressures of austerity and technological modernisation has already led to the increasing use of the internet over face-to-face interaction with public servants in frontline delivery.  But transcending the sheer utilitarian need to move to digital for the sake of shielding and public health, there is a more exciting, adventurous and potentially socially healing potential for community focused digital services. 

The excitement is that this is an agenda not written by the IT salesmen of the Blair years of e-government targets, e-envoys and ennui – nor is it a reheated Big Society offering in which the voluntary and communitarian is seen as a masking for cuts. 

This is digital as a bridge and enabler of local solidarity, as a gateway to restoring community pride and restoring our social fabric.  This strand will be investigating the impact of the digitisation of public services on local government and on its relationship with people and place in the context of the pandemic and against a broader backdrop of the English Devolution White Paper and the next multi-year financial settlement.