I highlighted the positive view citizens have about digital public services in my last blog. And their appetite for more. I now want to address some of their concerns and why doubt the ability of government to continue to deliver.
The digital disruption brought about by new technologies is transforming the interaction between citizens, business and the public sector.
Citizens compare public services with innovative platform business models provided by digital trendsetters like Apple, Google and Amazon. I expect simplicity and even friendliness when I talk to Alexa or Siri.
What did we find? Government needs to join the dots
This year’s research shows that digital public services fall short of the best commercial services. While 64% of UK citizens said digital public services were advanced this falls to just 30% when they are asked to compare them to commercial services.
The UK Government can take some comfort from the comparison with France (18%), Norway (19%) and Germany (20%). And of course, we understand that governments face unique challenges, as ‘customers’ often have no choice when using public services that can be a last resort. Governments need to address complex and long term needs like the reduction of re-offending or the treatment of chronic health conditions.
But citizens told us of their frustrations about the need to input information many times, including various passwords, the multiple steps needed to access services and an inability track progress. Some of these issues are being addressed by the UK Government, including through new platforms such as Verify and Notify. And they have flagged an intention to ‘improve citizen service across channels’ through a new Transformation (not digital) Strategy.
However, too often governments fail to meet citizen’s expectations when it reproduces its analogue bureaucratic procedures in a digitised way. Siloed service delivery approaches, with multiple websites and fragmented service delivery, organised around internal institutional structures are no longer acceptable. Which is why the number one priority for 44% of the UK citizens surveyed was the creation of a one-stop digital portal for undertaking interactions which need to be performed with multiple agencies (and this was a common priority across France, Norway and Germany).
Improving the experience of citizens in a revolutionary way
Citizens expect their public services to be designed with a user-driven perspective. And to adapt to different user profiles and needs. Through intelligent re-use of data and information previously generated or provided by citizens, governments can shift from reactive to proactive service delivery practices.
In a reactive service, the citizen is always responsible for starting the service demand, properly identifying herself and providing the required information. In a proactive service, the public sector knows its citizens, knows their life circumstances and current needs, and provides them the space to voice and signal their requests and preferences.
This enables the public sector to serve citizens in a personalised fashion about their rights, their duties and the services available. And to reach out to them to receive the authorisation to complete the service on their behalf.
This capacity to collect, combine and process data in a coherent way to better serve citizens must be a key feature of digital public services. And this needs a whole-of-government effort to exchange information across the public sector. With the key building blocks – common architecture, interoperability framework, digital identity system – in place to enable integrated service delivery.
Developing a user-driven approach also implies that the public sector’s capacities, workflows, business processes, operations need to be adapted to the rapidly evolving digital age. The challenge is not to introduce digital technologies but to integrate and embed them right from the start into efforts to modernise services.
I’d like to hear your views on how policies can be made digital by design, mobilising new technologies to rethink and re-engineer processes or open new channels of communication and engagement with citizens. And feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information on our research with Ipsos.