Digital service delivery — three priorities for governments

Wednesday, 21 April, 2021

Digital service delivery — three priorities for governments

In part 1 of this article, How deliberate design can help close the digital divide, Catherine Friday* from EY discussed how 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. And that governments need to develop citizen-centric business models to meet service expectations while optimising outcomes and efficacy, especially if those services are being digitised.

This article highlights three priorities for policymakers 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.

Trusted, inclusive digital service delivery

Inclusive digital service delivery makes sense if it is framed around a new model of customer engagement. If government is going to solve the high capability versus low trust problem in Australia, inclusive and trustworthy systems will also need to be implemented and enabled.

Governments need to embark on a digital transformation program that focuses not just on how services are delivered, but also on what services are delivered. What’s required is a reshaping of public services enabled by technology, designed from the citizen’s perspective and on par or better than private sector services. This is the way to create public services that are differentiated yet inclusive, leaving no group behind.

A priority will be investment in high-speed digital infrastructure, including broadband and 5G networks, to provide connectivity in all parts of the country. With our nation lagging the digital infrastructure of many other developed countries, this is one of the critical challenges Australian policymakers need to urgently address. Governments can also help provide devices (like laptops and tablets) to get people online and run programs to improve people’s digital literacy so they have the skills and confidence to interact with digital services.

But governments will also need to ensure that those who are not digitally connected have alternative ways of accessing services. The requirement for no citizen to be disenfranchised is a major consideration for all public services.

Citizens already confident with technology have heightened expectations for service delivery, in terms of quality, speed, convenience and value for money. Governments will need to work to meet the expectations of these citizens, applying private sector standards. For example, now that the CDR has impacted expectations of how services are delivered to consumers, the Australian Government will also need to implement CDR for ‘government-to-citizen’ services.

Examples of digital services and their implementation:

  • Transparent data privacy, security and consent measures to establish and maintain trust in service delivery.
  • Unique digital credentials that allow citizens to gain easier access to a range of services through multiple digital channels.
  • Increasing the use of biometric data to facilitate more effective movement and access to services supported by trusted identity validation and verification of people.
  • Smart portals and mobile apps that provide one-stop access to multiple government services, as well as pushing timely messages and updates. Integrating these across levels of government should be the ultimate goal.
  • “Tell us once” services so people don’t have to re-fill their personal data online for different government transactions and, over time, extending this across federal, state and local government levels so that government operates as one intelligent, integrated system designed around the citizen (and businesses).
  • Integrated digital platforms that enable data sharing across different government systems, creating a complete view of the citizen and organise services around people’s needs and life events.
  • Smarter infrastructure and buildings that are IoT (Internet of Things) enabled providing intelligent cities to citizens.
  • Full, digital end-to-end fulfilment of service requests that enable speedier delivery.
  • Conversational platforms, with AI-powered chat bots, to interact with citizens, rapidly resolve queries and complete transactions.
  • A true omnichannel experience, allowing people to access services on a variety of platforms using a range of devices that is AI enabled where possible.
  • Use of digital and emerging technologists to manage peak customer interaction volumes and delayed response times onset by disasters or emergency situations, enabling staff to focus on engaging with citizens that have unique or specialised circumstances.

Design thinking, customer experience labs and data analytics will help governments design their services to make each touchpoint better, faster and more efficient. The eventual goal is proactive and even predictive service delivery embedded in natural systems, where possible, reducing the administrative and compliance burden. This will ultimately free up resources to focus on those that need it most — the vulnerable in our society.

Responsible data sharing

We’re producing and storing more data than ever before and now have the tools to analyse them for the public good. And while most people believe data analysis and technology will be needed to help solve increasingly complex future problems, they are concerned about widening social inequality, loss of human interaction and the potential encroachment on personal privacy and digital security.

Within a digital economy, it’s the role of government to support and enable interoperability of services and giving citizens a single pathway to access all those services. Initiatives are underway to provide visibility of data standards across government and to inform decision-making that drives interoperability and frictionless, seamless data sharing across government and business.

Governments also need to step up their involvement in collaborative information sharing programs so that there is a common understanding of not only what systems are used but how all the information is gathered and shared. The ultimate goal should be the ability of citizens to access one single multi-jurisdictional channel for their service delivery.

There is an opportunity for further data sharing across all levels of government in Australia that focuses on at minimum a “tell-us-once” approach. This approach works on the principle that information provided in one part of government can persist across multiple agencies, jurisdictions and programs. For example, integration between services for vulnerable people in Australia could see federal health agencies interacting and sharing data with the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, Service NSW and Family and Community Services in New South Wales.

New regulatory, legal and governance frameworks are, however, needed to both capitalise on the opportunities and manage the potential risks for citizens. For instance, policymakers will need to take a hard look at issues such as data privacy, surveillance technology, the inequities embedded in algorithms, how organisations are using data in their AI systems and the integrity of the information ecosystem.

Australia is well underway to deal with privacy and consent-based systems such as CDR. Governments are already strengthening regulations governing the use of people’s personal data, creating legal frameworks that give citizens a level of active control over their data and the right to know what is being done with it.

As an example, the federal government has recently issued Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy 2020, which aims to “invest $1.67 billion to build new cyber security and law enforcement capabilities, assist industry to protect themselves and raise the community’s understanding of how to be secure online”.

The federal government is also looking to enhance personal data privacy and security through the 2021 News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. Passed in early 2021, the code sets minimum standards for “providing information about how and when Google and Facebook make available user data collected through users’ interactions with news content”.

As more organisations embrace these good practices in ethical design and governance, governments will be better equipped to mitigate risks, safeguard against harmful outcomes and build the trust that is needed to use data to deliver better public policy outcomes.

Public participation and engagement

In the future, top-down models of governance will no longer be seen as legitimate or efficient. Many citizens expect decision-making to be shared, open and participatory.

Governments have an opportunity to engage citizens on the issues they care about. New digital e-participation tools, such as social media, mobile apps and online digital platforms, allow governments to collect input from citizens on a large scale, providing insights to enrich policy development and decision-making.

Governments can also ensure people are not just consulted but empowered to shape the decisions that affect them. Many are experimenting with different models for engagement to identify, debate and decide on a wide range of topics. For example, deliberative citizens’ juries have been used in Australia, as well as in Ireland and other countries, to co-create solutions to complex social and economic challenges. In South Australia, citizen juries have been tasked with finding solutions to nuclear waste storage, road safety and improving Adelaide’s nightlife.

More extensive solutions through empowered decision-making have also been used. The initial design of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia, for example, was predicated on the federal government co-creating its policy response to supporting people with disabilities with those that were receiving the support. The NDIS gave individuals the ability to devise their own plan and have some agency over how their budget for support would be allocated across services.

We also see growing interest in participatory budgeting initiatives that allow citizens to decide how to allocate public budgets. More than 180 policy labs, including the University of Melbourne Policy Hub, have been set up globally to incubate ideas and provide a testbed for policies in areas such as education, health and justice. Similarly, government-organised hackathons have proved an effective way to engage people in finding fresh solutions to the economic, social and technological challenges posed by COVID-19.

Most governments and public authorities across the world are launching Open Data initiatives and setting up data exchange platforms that put power back in the hands of citizens and consumers. The focus is on making data widely available to third parties, including citizens, to help develop new solutions to complex problems while improving transparency and accountability, and creating a strong digital economy for all.

Citizen-centric governments

Governments around the world aspire to have strong and robust digital economies. While the private sector may have set the bar for digital transformation and consumer expectations, governments are now starting to provide leadership and accelerate their programs and implementations.

Governments are also leaning in to address their role. Are they just the legislator and regulator, expecting others to be responsible for this digital transformation? Or are they facilitators of and participants in a digital economy? The pendulum is swinging towards this latter role, with the pandemic accelerating this shift.

Governments also need to provide innovation and technology leadership so the ecosystem better serves connected citizens whose aspirations to be served on their own terms grow with each generation.

Advances in data and technology afford governments a unique opportunity to better serve their citizens. But, as with any transformative opportunity, there is an inherent risk: that an ambition to digitise and transform as much and as quickly as possible sometimes results in a one-size-fits all approach that actually fits only a few, leaving many further disconnected from government, physically and attitudinally.

Governments must grasp this moment to transform and lead by showing ambition and implementing a coherent digital transformation program for creating a digital economy. Studying the seven Connected Citizens personas will help governments plan digital service delivery mechanisms that cater for each of their different needs.

In doing so, governments can become more effective and more efficient, while addressing digital exclusion to help reduce social inequality. At the same time, they will help build a more equitable and better working world for every citizen.

*Catherine Friday is Managing Partner EY Oceania Government and Health Sciences with decades of experience in improving how governments work and deliver services. She is also a Mustang owner, keen horse rider and average but enthusiastic skier.

Image credit: ©

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