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A month after the launch of our Unlocking Thriving Towns eBook, AppyWay VP of Marketing & Sales sat down (remotely) with Gaist CEO Steve Birdsall, Director at SSE Enterprise Stephen Stead, and AppyWay’s Head of Mobility Ben Boutcher-West to continue the thriving towns through digital innovation conversation and to showcase some of the recent initiatives Gaist, SSE and AppyWay have implemented that enable local authorities to unlock the power of data and innovation, and unlock more sustainable, liveable, thriving towns across the UK.

Covid has brought a change in mindset which has always been obstacle to innovation. Councils for very good reasons are risk averse, but adapting to change and the change we have had to adapt to has really given people a new mindset on accepting news way of working and new technologies.

Steve BirdsallCEO of Gaist
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Local authority innovation post covid-19


To kick things off the panel reflected on the last 12 months of local authority challenges. It’s clear to the panel that their authority partner’s focus has very much been elsewhere. The covid-19 pandemic has seen lots of public sector staff on furlough and funding has been heavily focused on pandemic fighting initiatives. But the challenges of covid-19 have not done away with the challenges that existed prior to the pandemic. Those include the aging population and the proportion of budget needed for social care, the impact of online shopping and delivery on the high street, and of course the pressing environmental challenges of decarbonisation, EV infrastructure, and the move towards active modes of travel. 

As Stephen Stead of SSE Enterprise comments, “authorities are starting to come out the other side of last year’s disruptions and authorities are ready to re-engage on their most pressing challenges. However, overcoming these challenges will require innovative ways of working and adopting this innovation requires a top down approach, with a visionary at top driving this change.”

Data, information, and conducting an asset stock take

For authorities, diving right in and tackling their challenges is often a challenge in and of itself. They know they need to get from A to B, but that also requires steps 1-3 to be completed first. The best exercise a local authority can undertake is a data and information sourcing exercise to truly understand the state of play. From highways and road maintenance, to air quality, congestion, and kerbside utilisation, Stephen, Steve, and Ben take us through the innovations that are helping local authority customers understand their towns and cities like never before and enabling them to make data led decisions. 

Steve Birdall comments that “to be able to change anything you need to take stock of what you’ve got and understand what you’ve got. You can’t change, move forward, or innovate without knowing where you are today. Through data you help authorities make the business case for innovation.”

Driving innovation through data standardisation


The panel moves on to the topic of data standardisation within local authorities. An often contentious topic because the size and scale of the issue is something that local authorities are only just beginning to grapple with and many see this as an added layer of administration. It’s importance however, is something that AppyWay has been championing since our inception, in particular kerbside data and traffic regulation order data. 

As Ben Boutcher-West points out, frameworks have existed for traffic order data standardisation but they have been heavily open to interpretation leaving the market fragmented and creating a poor user experience for drivers, fleets, and cities. He comments “data standardisation in some of these spaces is well needed, at AppyWay we’re huge advocates for it and we’re really pleased to see the early adopters within local authorities really embracing what that standardisation could look like.”

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