Digitally-enabled governments, if effective, can save costs, rebuild trust, and even restart conversations with disengaged citizens. A successful digital strategy requires concerted efforts across departments, and thorough understanding of citizens’ digital behaviour and their needs in different life stages.
Challenges facing governments today are highly complex and interconnected. Public institutions, however, haven’t evolved much during the last centuries. Therefore, we have 18th-century institutions trying to deal with 21st-century problems.
Fragmented digital efforts
Being digital is supposed to help governments use resources more efficiently and provide better services. However, as in several cases across Europe, these massively expensive initiatives ended up digitising only some government departments. Departments often offer very different digital experiences, or duplicate their efforts with one another. It causes even more confusion and waste of resources, resulting in a fragmented, unpredictable and irritating citizen experience.
From irritation to apathy
When governments fail to understand citizens’ digital behaviour and expectations, people might get frustrated and turn irritation into apathy towards the state. Citizens then have no expectation, fostering a sense of distrust that has been permeating our society. It is one of the reasons for the rise of a new generation of disengaged and disillusioned citizens.
Regain citizens’ trust
Trust in governments has dropped to very low levels in countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Poland, the USA and Hong Kong. In order to govern more effectively, governments should redesign their processes and systems, using digital tools and centred around citizens. A key policy goal should be interacting with citizens proactively and capitalising on their energy and new ideas.
For an average citizen, the role of government services in his or her life changes with age and life stages. Early in life it is mostly about health and education, in the adult phase it is more about employment and taxation. Understanding the changing needs and expectations of citizens over time helps governments decide how to invest in the right combination of services.
A seamless citizen experience
In order to stay relevant and responsive to citizens’ needs and expectations, governments must be agile, streamlined and tech-enabled. Governments should offer citizens digital access to information and services, increase institutional transparency, proactively provide relevant information and support to meet citizens’ needs, share access across departments, simplify services and reduce bureaucracy.
Even though European governments have started to align their online services, citizens still find the experience confusing and inconsistent. People need agencies to work together to provide the right services particularly in dire situations such as being laid off or applying for disability benefits. Digitising these non-standard transactional services might be very costly as it may not be able to deal with customer confusion and incidents effectively.
Collaborate and integrate
Governments need a cohesive digital strategy, which encourages mass adoption and sets the stage for a new and better relationship with their citizens. Collaboration and integration between departments is crucial for a more streamlined citizen experience. This also enables governments to connect with disillusioned and disengaged citizens in new ways.
The world needs 21st-century governments for 21st-century challenges. Governments should proactively analyse citizens’ digital behaviours and expectations, in order to design digitally-enabled citizen-centric institutions. A well informed digital strategy has a positive impact on citizen engagement and experience, as well as on the reduction of costs.