Three Ways Governments Can Engage Better With Citizens

Kathleen O'Brien

I spend a lot of time following how the digital transformation wave is affecting the public sector as it’s my job. I’m also an average citizen. Every person is a citizen of somewhere, yet somehow retailers know us better and respond to us in almost any way we choose. Governments are still behind the curve, failing to let us “hack” their processes to make them easier and faster.

As a U.S. citizen, I enjoyed a quick, seamless process to apply online for an Australian business tourist visa. It took a few minutes with no paper involved. The visa was attached to my passport number in the system. I arrived in Sydney and could simply go through the automatic passport lane, where my passport was scanned and my photo taken, and literally, in one minute I was on the other side.

Conversely, when my family and I moved to Australia last year I had to apply for my children to get a government-issued card. I had to download the forms, print them out, and fill them in by hand. I then had to physically bring the children, their passports and forms into a service centre to be seen and the passports photocopied. I lost more than half a day because of a few hitches in doing this, including the service centre having been moved across town.

Then there is the internal side of the process, where agency workers have to deal with the plethora of paper, photocopying the documents (unnecessarily using paper, electricity, toner), which they no doubt also scan into an electronic file. Followed by someone having to file all this paper somewhere. It’s not much of a win-win for anyone, and not very environmentally friendly either.

1. Apply an agile approach to transformation

It’s not only government organizations that say, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” I’ve worked with many of the world’s top retailers where business teams all would inevitably say the same thing and believe their problems and processes were unique. There was also a distinct “us and them” feeling between store teams and online teams—the organizational battles, the business silos, everything conspiring to undermine the success of true customer engagement.

A strategy is essential, but if those expected to implement it don’t believe in it, or think they will lose their power if they do, then you have a problem. It’s definitely bad enough for a retailer, but it’s magnified in government. Applying an agile approach to transformation is lower-risk and more effective because you don’t spend years planning and spending before the years spent implementing. It happens in small releases, which can be continually updated in the public domain, and means the key challenge of change management, both internally and externally, can be managed more effectively.

2. New technology is not enough — processes need to change

Having the old processes being supported by shiny new technology will inevitably go to waste because the technology isn’t allowed to do what it was intended to do. It’s like buying a Ferrari and then only driving it to pick up your groceries. True innovation will come when we drop the “but we’ve always done it this way” and instead say, “If I could completely reinvent this from ground up, what would I do? What makes sense here?”

Changing something foundational, which underpins most processes, such as identity will reap the largest rewards and quickly gain high citizen satisfaction levels across every process that is reformed, ranging from passports to Medicare to licenses, business, and visa services. A UK survey by GOSS Interactive found “the availability of public sector services through digital self-service systems is expected to grow by 310% and save an average of £8.74 million by 2018.” There are huge savings to consider.

3. Learn from overseas

We all have our own stories of painfully trying to get things done, but there is momentum in government to be acknowledged. Australia has joined the United Kingdom and United States governments in understanding the importance of putting the user (citizen) at the centre of their transformation programs, and applying agile development methodologies to create an environment of continual improvement.

The UK’s GDS Digital by Default is a constant reminder to everyone where the focus is: “Understand user needs. Research to develop a deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.” Gov. UK has more than 300 agencies linked to it which helps provide a one-stop-shop for government services. And having personally used it myself over the last few years, it’s pretty good.

Similarly, in Estonia, once you have established your identity with the government, you can use the e-Services portal for a whole host services, including applying for your children’s European Health Cards, which are linked to the Estonian Health Insurance scheme. Granted, Estonia is well-known for its exemplary use of online identity services and cybersecurity, so it makes sense that a process like this becomes very simple. While not every process in Estonia is perfect, they are a great example of electronic identity services, which is a key factor in every interaction with government.

As Paul Shetler, CEO at Australia’s Digital Transformation Office said in a recent DTO blog, “The average person shouldn’t know how government works.” It should be obvious to me as a citizen that any process is straightforward, transparent, and efficient as possible. It’s often mentioned in the digital discussion that this trend toward self-service will leave lower-income, lesser-educated folks behind. I disagree. It seems clear that a mobile-first approach to self-service is an important choice in how people engage with government, especially given that 21% of the Australian population is mobile-internet only and according to the ACMA survey of 2014, is up by 10% from the previous year.

Governments will change for the better, they will save taxpayer’s money, and staff will have new challenges, even if it’s one process at a time. Over the next five years the transformation in how governments deliver services and leverage the proliferation of smartphones in the population will be a win for citizens desperate for an easier and faster way to engage.

For more on technology in the public sector, see Passion And Government—An Oxymoron?

This post originally appeared in The Australian and is republished here with permission. 

 


Kathleen O'Brien

About Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O’Brien is focused on business development in the the global public sector industry at SAP Hybris.