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We’re big believers in the opportunities social intelligence presents for customers and business alike. And there’s perhaps no greater potential for social data to drive transformational change than in the area of government services. From discovering pain points and improving services for citizens, to identifying areas or issues requiring funding, support or attention, to city planning, crime management, disaster relief and so much more. The opportunities are endless.

Already there are some great examples of how forward-thinking government departments globally are harnessing the power of social data to improve citizen services and experiences. In New York City, health officials identified violations by partnering with food review network Yelp, monitoring keywords from the channel to track instances of food poisoning and food-related illness. Other similar pilots have leveraged Twitter data to deliver equally valuable results.

In Australia, numerous local councils are already using social platforms for community consultation and engagement. However limiting use to platforms such as OurSay fall short in that they require the community to opt in to participate, often resulting in Council hearing from the same voices over and over again. But imagine if councils instead leveraged the more implicit and real-time insight afforded through social intelligence – capturing the issues, community requirements and pain points that citizens were already talking about publicly across all social channels – not just those owned by Councils?

Perhaps one of the most impactful examples of the use of social intelligence exists in disaster management after extreme weather events and disasters. Agencies can monitor social data for affected areas requiring emergency services and even track outbreaks of infectious disease. Rather than hurriedly coordinating volunteers to manage the surge in calls for help and manually reviewing individuals’ Facebook pages one by one, an established social intelligence capability can empower agencies to activate their emergency tools and operating model, processing thousands of queries in minutes.

Where official data collection and reporting can take weeks, indicative (and reliable) social data can help uncover areas requiring attention in real time. We’re not just talking about process efficiencies here – we’re talking about saving people’s lives.

This type of use case was well documented in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas in Haiti. And as extreme weather events become more prevalent, how might emergency services be deployed in smarter ways, reacting to conversations that can be tracked through publicly available social data? Flooding in a number of streets? Why depend on people calling in during times of crisis when there are valuable conversations already happening online?

The opportunities that exist for social intelligence in the public sector are endless – both in adapting to immediate community needs, and in informing long term policy and service development. But capturing and analysing the available data isn’t just a question of adopting the right tools. The bigger challenge for government lies in having the capacity to move quickly enough to have a positive impact, rather than simply being a passive observer. Equally, articulating the value of capturing public social data to citizens, so there’s clear community understanding around risk and privacy fears. But with entities like Data61 (CSIRO’s homegrown digital research capability) already making strides in this space, it won’t be long before barriers like this are removed.

Just think how powerful government services could be with access to valuable real-time intelligence and the capacity to act quickly in response? The model and process around policy and investment decision making would change dramatically, driving greater value from public services and more positive outcomes for the community.

Where do you sit on this opportunity? Should governments spend more time listening and leveraging citizen intelligence from public social conversations, or do the perceived privacy fears present too great a barrier?

Author: Nat Swainston

Nathalie Swainston has more than a decade’s experience at the intersection of marketing, people and technology, working across digital, experience design, brand and marketing and community engagement. Nat understands that genuine customer centricity sits with no single department or team member – but when adopted by the whole organisation, it provides a rare opportunity for businesses to deliver increasingly valuable, relevant products and services to customers, regardless of industry. Moreover, she knows that change cannot be achieved in an organisation in siloes, and no technical solution can make up for the challenges presented when the necessary processes, behaviours and alignment is lacking.

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