How it happened
If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. And that was the daunting task facing the elected members of Longford County Council, when it came to maintaining their local democratic processes and all-important community links online, in the face of a global pandemic.
With the support of the Longford County Council Information Systems Team, they took a step out of their comfort zones and into the world of remote working technology. Most of the councillors were already well able to hold their own online – promoting their parties or policies on social media is part and parcel of the work that they do – but bringing their public meetings into their own homes and exposing themselves and their technological know-how was another thing entirely.
And so it went. During the initial days of the first Covid-19 lockdown, the elected members of Longford County Council quickly embraced remote working technology to ensure continued financial support to the community and voluntary communities of County Longford.
Longford Municipal District was the first municipal district in the country to hold a virtual meeting in 2020, and this resulted in Longford County Council winning the prestigious award for “Outstanding Initiative through the Municipal Districts” at the Excellence in Local Government Awards. The award recognised Longford County Council’s strive for innovation and leadership in adopting digital technology to allow its elected members to continue to serve their communities.
The Excellence in Local Government Award ceremony is hosted by Chambers Ireland in partnership with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to showcase the best practice and innovation in local government across Ireland. The annual Awards began in 2004 to recognise the Local Authority of the Year and many other achievements delivered by local authorities. The 2020 awards were announced online by Ms Mary Kennedy on 26 November 2020.
Upholding local democracy
This innovative initiative undertaken by the IT team in Longford County Council ensured the elected members could meet remotely to consider and prioritise applications for funding in each Municipal District. Meeting the needs of local communities was at the heart of the project, with up to 90 community groups receiving approximately €430,000 in funding through the three digital Municipal District meetings that ensued. This funding was provided by the elected members at a time when other funding streams were effectively cut off.
The new digital way of working ensured transparency within local government was upheld. Its success demonstrates the use of technology to strengthen local democracy, leadership and accountability in keeping with a commitment to e-democracy and e-governance.
Local Government and its dedication to serve our communities doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves, yet its ceaseless efforts extend across Irish urban and rural life and are crucial for the delivery of fundamental services which we all benefit from regularly.
Chambers Ireland recognises the sometimes underexposed yet meaningful projects with the Excellence in Local Government Awards. Inventive thinking and energetic application are in no short supply at local level across the country and it’s truly remarkable to see these new ideas being developed for the public benefit across different communities.
Behind the scenes
At a stage when the organisation was only initially phasing in the rollout of remote working technology, including programmes like Microsoft Teams, this initiative required intensive one-to-one training sessions to be undertaken with each of the elected members in a short space of time. The councillors showed patience and trust in the process, allowing themselves to be guided along. The confidence and faith that they had in the expertise of their IT team was a wonderful exercise in collaborative working. The employees in IT gave of their time and skills to facilitate the process required to get everyone online in time for the country’s first remote Municipal District meeting in Longford.
Winning this prestigious national award demonstrated the agility of the in-house IT Team in Longford. While one of the smallest in the sector, they are constantly punching above their weight to deliver innovative and flexible cutting-edge solutions to the whole organisation, through the Municipal Districts and ultimately to the citizens and communities of County Longford.
This solution, as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, enabled the local authority to continue to deliver its operational, statutory, governance and representational functions seamlessly throughout the crisis and indeed, they were the first in the country to put in place such a solution.
The recognition at a national level reflects what has been described as a very wise strategic investment in technology made by the Senior Management Team and elected members a number of years ago. The vision and belief in how technology could be used in local government to achieve efficiencies and to help modernise business processes has paid dividends in how Longford County Council has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s hoped that this could be the first of many awards that Longford County Council receives in recognition of how progressively the local authority continues to use technology to strategically improve and innovate.