Analysis: Citizen engagement at the heart of tomorrow’s services


Citizen engagement has become a big theme in the infrastructure sector. With the growth of social media and smartphone technology, there are now many ways to engage with the people using public services every day.

As an industry, we’re keen to understand more about citizens’ needs, views and opinions. Of course, it helps us deliver better services. We know that citizens, more than ever, want to have a voice on decisions and a way to share their voice with authorities and decision-makers.

However, we have an ongoing challenge: we engage with less than 5% of citizens across the UK, when assessing their views on their highways service. How can we say this is truly representative of the communities and cities that we operate in?

Engagement through technology

Citizen engagement is not a new concept. Traditional methods of seeking citizen feedback and understanding satisfaction levels rely on paper-based, quantitative surveys. These are still being used within our industries. Going hand in hand with perceptive reports from organisations such as Transport Focus (which delves into detailed perspectives), they can provide valuable information and insight.

What is new is the emergence of big data. We’re at a stage now where we are able to collect data in unprecedented volumes, and that will only continue to increase. As we start to consume and analyse big data in a very different way, this enables us to have greater confidence to make commissioning decisions based on data outputs.

By linking data from different sources and encouraging citizens to engage through new mediums such as mobility apps, we have the opportunity to look at measuring citizen experience differently. What we need to do if we are truly going to recognise the view of citizens and ensure our asset management principles correlate with their perspectives, is ensure that our data sources and analysis methods complement the research.

Should citizens be driving change or just informing it?

If you’re thinking this sounds like a complex challenge, you’re right. Marrying research, citizen views and the swathes of big data that we are increasingly receiving to ensure we are delivering an optimal service is not straightforward.

It also poses us with a question – to what degree should citizens be driving change in our services? Should people’s feedback just be informing change? Ultimately, should key decisions be left to the asset management experts?

In some cases, it’s clear that engaging citizens directly enhances the services we provide. Recycling is the most obvious example – the more you engage with people on the issue of recycling, the more likely it is that people will sort their rubbish for recycling.

In a highway maintenance environment, it’s different. While we engage with end users, this should be balanced with the views of experienced asset managers – using the knowledge and expectations of all parties to make the most informed decisions.

Citizen engagement: Shifting perceptions

Engaging citizens should also lead to a greater understanding of the challenges authorities face - to juggle budgets, urgent repairs, ongoing maintenance and citizens’ priorities. Equally, it allows authorities to truly understand what’s actually important to their citizens.

Over time, I think we’ll see a shift to a position where citizen engagement, and ultimately satisfaction, will have an increased importance weighting when making decisions to identify and prioritise projects.

Collectively, the industry has a broad range of skills - asset management knowledge, traditional engineering experience, data services, technology developments and more. Through collaboration between the public and private sectors, we have the ability to deliver services that best serve the highways asset - and can be built to meet citizens’ needs. Collaboration is key.

It will take a collaborative shift in hearts and minds to realise that we can only unlock this potential together, no single company, organisation or individual can deliver this vision, but together it can be realised.

We still need to create a business environment that enables these elements to collaboratively unlock the potential public services offer in smart, urban or rural environments. Too often we compete where we need to collaborate. There is a growing momentum for change, and great work is being done to move this forward, although still too often being conducted in silos.

We also need to support entrepreneurial start-ups who offer more open innovation and incubation of new ideas. Unfortunately, this is often restricted by legislation, out of date intellectual property expectations or barriers to entry.

We’re beginning to see some change, and I hope this could be accelerated by a common industry approach to unlock blockers and maximise the opportunities a full market collaboration could deliver for the citizen.

David Ogden is business director (highways) at Amey.

Highways jobs

Key Route Network Manager

Liverpool City Region
£63,753 - £71,747
An exciting new opportunity has arisen within the Integrated Transport Directorate of the LCR Combined Authority Liverpool, Merseyside
Recruiter: Liverpool City Region

Medium/Heavy Vehicle Mechanic - January 2020

North West Leicestershire District Council
You could earn up to £28,785 + 0.75 hours per week plain time overtime
Tasks will include preparation for DVSA annual examination, servicing, general and defect generated repairs, fault finding including diagnostic tests. Coalville, Leicestershire
Recruiter: North West Leicestershire District Council

Senior Engineer (Co-ordinator) - 2 jobs

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£22,462 - £29,636 + £2000 Market Rate Supplement
The role is in the Highway Network Management & Co-ordination (HNMC) Team, which is part of Operational Services. Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Surface Water Engineer

Essex County Council
£30001.0 - £35350 per annum
At Essex County Council, we're passionate about helping deliver economic growth, the best starts in life and the chance to age well for people in the England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recruiter: Essex County Council

Highways Operations Manager

Swindon Borough Council
Salary up to £41,494 p.a.
In this key role, you will plan, organise, co-ordinate and control the workforce Swindon, Wiltshire
Recruiter: Swindon Borough Council

Director Neighbourhood & Enforcement

Telford & Wrekin Council
Cicra 89k
Telford and Wrekin is a great place to live, work, visit and do business. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Senior Engineer (Highways Maintenance Design)

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£22,462 - £29,636
Are you looking for an opportunity to work as a Senior Engineer, whilst still being able to develop your career and have a good work-life balance? Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Highways Projects Engineer

Cambridgeshire County Council
£33,153 - £35,755
Looking for strong team players interested in working with a variety of professional and community partners across Cambridgeshire and... Cambridgeshire
Recruiter: Cambridgeshire County Council

Senior Heating Engineer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
Up to £48,692 per annum
Looking for a Senior Heating Engineer who will work as part of one of the small professional teams. London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Lead Practitioner (Infrastructure)

Newark & Sherwood District Council
£33,799 to £35,934 per annum
Newark and Sherwood is looking to recruit to its newly created post of Lead Practitioner for Infrastructure. Newark, Nottinghamshire
Recruiter: Newark & Sherwood District Council

Senior Parking Manager

Brent Council
£55,638 - £58,779 p.a. inc.
As Senior Parking Manager, you will be responsible for the effective management of the Council’s Parking Services contract Brentford (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Highways Inspector

Hackney London Borough Council
£28,752 - £32,577
We are seeking an experienced Highways Inspector to join the Highways Team. Hackney, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Hackney London Borough Council

School Crossing Patrol

Brent Council
£21,591 - £22,377 p.a. inc. pro rata. (£11.50 per hour)
A school crossing patrol officer is responsible for assisting children to cross the road safely on their way to and from school. Brent, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Brent Council

Assistant Director - Environment

Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council
£82k per annum
Our Assistant Director – Environment will ensure clean, safe and attractive communities. Redcar, North Yorkshire
Recruiter: Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

Traffic Engineering Team Leader

Telford & Wrekin Council
£39,782 - £42,683
This is an exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Network Management Team Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Street Lighting Client Officer

Enfield London Borough Council
£37,842 – £40,728
As a Street Lighting Client Officer, you will assist the Streetlighting Client Manager in managing the Council’s Street lighting Service Provider Enfield (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Enfield London Borough Council

Partnership Director (Fixed Term for 2 years)

£79,165 - £83,020
An exciting opportunity has arisen for the post of Partnership Director for the Tayside & Central Scotland Transport Partnership (Tactran). Perth, Perth and Kinross
Recruiter: Tactran

Service Director Planning, Transportation and Highways

Wakefield Council
To lead on behalf of the Council on all planning, transportation and highways matters Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Wakefield Council

Road Safety and Sustainable Transport Assistant

Telford & Wrekin Council
SCP 13-17 - £11.41 - £12.35
Exciting opportunity to join Telford & Wrekin Council’s Highways, Transport & Engineering, Road Safety & Sustainable Transport Team. Telford, Shropshire
Recruiter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Valuing our roads: What is a network worth?

Also inside:

Traffex review 

Diary of a flood.

Beautiful roads

Live Labs exclusive briefing 

View the latest issue

Latest Video