Using Copilot in Local Government: Lessons from the LOTI AI Meetup
In December, LOTI brought together London local government colleagues from across digital, data, organisational development and more, to learn about how Microsoft Copilot is being utilised in local government. This was our second AI Meetup as part of our ongoing work supporting boroughs to be ambitious and responsible users of AI. At this meetup, Westminster City Council and Buckinghamshire Council, alongside Microsoft, shared valuable insights into their experience implementing Copilot and we got a look into some really interesting use cases.
As described by Microsoft “Copilot is the ability to use natural language to ask your Microsoft applications to perform tasks for you – with the key benefit of improved efficiency; enabling people to do more in less time.”
Real-world accounts of introducing Copilot in local government
Westminster’s Copilot Approach
Becky Chapman, Chief Delivery Engagement Officer Digital and Innovation, Westminster City Council, spoke about Westminster’s experience as a borough trialling Copilot for Microsoft 365 (M365).
Westminster opted for a phased approach, starting with early adopter testers (largely within Digital & Innovation), Digital Apprentices, and the project team to test functionality and increase familiarity to help support with wider adoption. This also helped the Customer Success team to help engage with potential users to develop their use case and demonstrate the art of the possible. The next phase included Executive Assistants and Service Champions to help them feel confident in using Copilot to provide support to senior leaders and the wider organisation as the third phase of the rollout.
Becky spoke about the real and raw conversations the project team had with staff concerned about how Copilot might impact their roles, which I hugely admired. Putting the emphasis on the ‘co’ of Copilot, it’s important to remember that crucial to its effectiveness are good prompts and good validation provided by you. So whilst implementing Copilot might mean there are new skills to learn, as the name suggests – it is not designed to exist on its own.
Westminster Use Cases and Personas
- Executive Assistants: Time saving with producing minutes and actions in a meeting. Provides some self-sufficiency of staff and allows the EA to prioritise their time and focus on other tasks instead.
- Business manager / governance officer: Able to produce a presentation to Members, based on a briefing note, with an update on various projects being delivered across the service. Helped the officer by saving time and pulling out the relevant points to the slide deck, with the individual’s time then just being spent on edits and design.
Alongside these use cases already in action, I was particularly interested to hear some of the further planned work at Westminster such as rolling out Copilot within the customer contact centre, and looking into how Copilot can support individuals with accessibility needs.
All this demonstrates that with the right use cases, and the right processes and governance around it, adopting AI related technologies in the workplace can be a real source of support to staff, in many ways.
Buckinghamshire’s Copilot Approach
Next we heard from Tony Ellis, Service Director IT, Buckinghamshire Council, another local authority trialling Copilot for M365. Tony’s key message was a powerful one, in his belief that AI has the power to lift the lid on data in local government.
Unlike Westminster’s phased approach to the Copilot rollout, Bucks decided to push it out to the business. This decision was based on the belief that staff members truly know and understand their job role and therefore are best equipped to come up with use cases offering genuine value to the organisation.
Tony spoke about the ‘buzz’ and sense of excitement among their staff. This was partially accredited to the fact that Copilot utilises a product suite staff are already used to (M365) and supports them to be more creative with it. It positively challenges staff to rethink how they work and consider WHY they are building this PowerPoint or why they are reading a particular report. In Tony’s words “it’s getting used to working in a new way… and it’s fun!”.
Innovative approaches to rethinking ways of working
I really enjoyed hearing about Bucks’ approach to getting their staff to start thinking differently. They came up with a ‘Dragon’s Den’ concept to stimulate creative thinking, inviting pitches from across their Resources directorate on a use case for Copilot within their department. Taking this approach also helped identify shared challenges and possible communities of practice.
One of these pitches (and spoiler alert – the winning pitch!) focused on customer facing performance, specifically looking at Average Handle Time (AHT) within the customer contact centre. The team pitched hooking Copilot up to telephony to accurate summarise phone calls, enabling the agent to then update the CRM or back-office system with relevant and accurate information, improve the AHT and overall performance. The team thought it would take 2 minutes off AHT, but in practice it has made a dramatic increase. Not only that but it comes with the additional benefits of capacity for the agents to deal with increased calls, improved customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.
This kind of innovative approach encourages a workplace in which employee engagement is valued and directly leads to improved organisational performance, whereby people come to work and can undertake their tasks in the most effective ways possible. During the panel Q&A discussion “time-saving” was highlighted as the number one factor in both LAs’ business case. And not just saving time, but what you are then able to do with that saved time. This also has the potential to positively impact on staff wellbeing, for example through reduced out of hours work.
- As many local authorities grapple with how best to embrace AI within their organisation, this is an area with real opportunity for shared learning and reinforces LOTI’s commitment to facilitating these conversations.
- Bringing the data protection and cyber security teams in early and fostering close collaboration with these colleagues is key for setting up project success.
- Both Westminster and Bucks took a ‘Use it or Lose it’ approach, evidencing the demand within the organisation for licences, but more importantly the organisational desire for everyone to share in the benefit and get the learning.
- Providing staff with support on appropriate use should be supplemented with opening up an honest conversation around what people are already using it for.
- There’s a real emphasis on finding the right places with the right use cases. Investment in such technologies, alongside distribution of it within the organisation, should have a clear link to genuine use case and value.
- There was a strong belief that AI will finally force data to where it should be – the forefront. A view I can certainly get behind!
Access all LOTI’s resources on GenAI from our dedicated webpage on Responsible AI.