How deliberate design can help close the digital divide

By Catherine Friday, EY Oceania Government and Health Sciences Managing Partner
Thursday, 15 April, 2021

How deliberate design can help close the digital divide

The COVID pandemic has profoundly increased our expectations of digital service delivery.

From online shopping and virtual schooling to remote and hybrid working, citizens now want their services delivered at the same level as they expected in person.

While many private businesses have transformed to meet these expectations, the global shock of the COVID-19 pandemic means that governments are being held to the same standards more than ever.

Governments across Australia had already started to move online even before the pandemic. The question now becomes: how do governments continue to build from this unexpected acceleration and deliver against expectations that have been newly reset? A key part of the answer lies in understanding the new business models for customer engagement that support this transformation.

New business models for government service delivery require a holistic yet differentiated understanding of exactly who those services are going to, their service needs and expectations on how services are delivered. Governments can’t rely on a generic approach. They need to tailor their delivery for a differentiated experience to meet citizen expectations while optimising outcomes and efficacy, especially if those services are being digitised. To do this effectively, governments need to develop citizen-centric business models.

EY’s major new research program, Connected Citizens, aims to better understand how people’s lives have changed, and will continue to change, by recognising the different digital needs and expectations of different groups, or personas. How do different citizen groups view their lives? What do they think of the services they receive from government? Are they ready for government to use more data and technology in public service delivery? How do they want to receive their services and interact with government? How do socio-economic circumstances, age or education affect their responses?

By exploring what people value, what concerns them most and how they feel about the technological advances that are shaping our lives, governments can embrace the opportunity to better serve and engage with citizens.

Ipsos MORI conducted online interviews with 12,100 participants of working age across 12 countries globally between July and September 2020. Quotas were set by age, gender, region and working status to achieve a representative sample in each country. Data were weighted by age, gender, region, work status and education. Ipsos MORI created a segmentation model based on the data, creating seven segments. EY then assigned each segment an identity or ‘persona’. Each persona reflects several dimensions including demographic profile, personal values, life satisfaction and priorities, attitudes toward technology and innovation, engagement with government and public services, and future outlook.

Personalised services

One of the most striking consequences of the pandemic has been our increasing reliance on technology for everyday purposes. This momentum provides the impetus to sustain the trajectory of digital transformation, where we now see technology as instrumental in improving many aspects of our lives.

But while governments around the world have accelerated the digitisation of many public services, the citizen experience continues to lag services provided by the private sector, such as online shopping and banking, in terms of expected improvements and personalisation.

The good news is that Australians are increasingly receptive to the use of technology by government and have taken notice, with almost two-thirds believing the government and public service’s use of technology to respond to the pandemic was effective.

Citizens are also becoming more discerning and looking for sustainable digital transformation of government services rather than short-term fixes through new apps that are not integrated or that deliver limited value. The use of QR codes and payment via a phone or watch has become commonplace over COVID-19. These accessible approaches need to be expanded and move to the next level of sophistication for other servicing.

As well as exploring in detail how citizens use and engage with technology (see our comprehensive report on the survey), the data has helped uncover seven different citizen personas that governments will need to engage in the future: Diligent Strivers, Capable Achievers, Privacy Defenders, Aspirational Technophiles, Tech Sceptics, Struggling Providers and Passive Outsiders.

These personas bring to life a citizen-centric approach and provide a useful springboard to help design and deliver on the ambition of a digital government within the broader context of a digital economy.

Seven Connected Citizens personas

Diligent Strivers are young proactive self-improvers keen to get on in life. They expect seamless digital government services to help them achieve their aims and are comfortable sharing their data with governments. They believe strongly in equal opportunities for all.

Capable Achievers are independent, successful and satisfied with their lives. They are pragmatic technophiles who embrace digital innovation. They trust governments to use their data appropriately, but worry about it getting into the wrong hands.

Privacy Defenders tend to be older, independent and comfortably off. They value technology and the benefits it gives them, but are extremely cautious when it comes to sharing their personal data with government or private companies.

Aspirational Technophiles are younger, well-educated city-dwellers. Motivated by success and new opportunities, they incorporate technology and data into every facet of their lives. They are excited by the potential for new digital innovations to empower people and improve society.

Tech Sceptics are older, on lower incomes and relatively dissatisfied with their lives. They are distrustful of government and sceptical about the benefits of technology. They tend to be opposed to data sharing, even for a clear purpose.

Struggling Providers are younger and tend to be in low-paid, less secure work. They are above-average users of welfare services. They are ambivalent towards technology, lacking the access and skills for it to make a big difference to their lives.

Passive Outsiders have lower levels of income and education. They are detached from the connected world around them and generally reluctant to embrace change. They are relatively ambivalent on data sharing but tend to feel the risks outweigh the benefits.

Embracing diversity

While the different personas share many characteristics, governments need to be aware of and respond to key differences between each of the personas. These personas will be informative in designing and transforming government service delivery models that balance experience, cost to serve and outcome effectiveness while ensuring equity is not compromised.

In Australia, the largest Connected Citizen group is the Capable Achievers, at 23% of the population, giving governments a clear opportunity to work with a cohort who actively embrace digital innovation. Four groups hover around 15%, while Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers are lower at 10% and 8% respectively.

These basic insights tell us that it’s not just the use of data that is important. Instead, it is the responsible use of citizen data that government needs to address. And through responsible data use, governments can start to establish trust.

At the same time as citizens start giving more permission to hold and use their data for increased service delivery, consent-based systems and principles will need to be standardised and streamlined. Citizens expect that their information is enabling the intended outcomes and any unintended consequences are managed and mitigated.

While some groups are comfortable sharing data to access a service or perform a transaction online, others voice real concerns about the risks involved. The need for governments to maintain citizen trust with data consent privacy issues will be a key success factor for the continued growth of the digitally connected citizen in Australia.

The key point emerging from the survey is that Australia’s citizens have a higher willingness and capability to use digital services. However, we are on the lower end of trusting our government with our data. This means that government needs to overcome the hurdle of trust if it is to be successful in its digital transformation. Some of our citizen segments lack the confidence to use new technology.

Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement about technology? — I feel confident using new technology on my own


Average (all segments)

Struggling Providers

Aspirational Technophiles

Capable Achievers

Passive Outsiders

Tech Sceptics

Diligent Strivers

Privacy Defenders

I am comfortable sharing my personal data with the government online in order to access a service









I am comfortable sharing my personal data online with a company in order to perform a transaction









I agree governments should share data within government where it will lead to improvements or efficiencies in public services









I agree governments should share data with the private sector where it will lead to improvements or efficiencies in public services









Almost one-third of global citizens rank more use of digital technologies in public service provision as one of the top three priorities for governments to improve service quality. So as governments move towards ‘digital by design’ and ‘digital by default’ approaches to service delivery, these personas can help governments ensure that digital services and data policies are properly designed across these different cohorts.

Greater personalisation will help improve public policy design, deliver more efficient and effective public services, and strengthen the relationship between government and citizens. The citizen-centric approach will also shift the role of government beyond just being a regulator and service provider. Government will now need to become a participant in and facilitator of the digital economy.

In addition, as government services are extended and transformed, organisations rolling out these changes must establish and maintain trust with citizens, particularly with respect to data privacy and consent. An example of government leaning in to these innovations is the Consumer Data Right (CDR) program that went live on 1 July 2020. Implemented by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the CDR allows consumers to “share their data relating to home loans, investment loans, personal loans and joint accounts” while ensuring that strong privacy protections are built in and enforced. While the focus has been on financial services in the first instance, the CDR program is in line to be rolled out to other sectors such as energy and utilities.

In Part 2

In Part 2 of this article, we look at three priorities policymakers should focus on as they strive to meet the multidimensional needs of citizens, engage them as co-producers of public value and deliver more effective and efficient digital services.

Image credit: © Vaclavek

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