INCLUDING NON-DIGITAL CITIZENS
How does a radical approach to government organizations’ digital transformations affect citizens who are not in a position to engage with government through digital channels?
It should not be assumed that everyone should link digitally with government, and that all citizens can be directed through this route once the services are available. To do so would be a misinterpretation of the government’s digital agenda. The very nature of government is that it is inclusive, which implies that it must engage with all citizens, whatever their level of digital literacy.
In fact, a significant number of people are not digitally literate. EU research shows that:
Almost 20% of Europeans have never used the internet.
Around 40% of people in the EU workforce do not have adequate digital skills. 14% of these people have no digital skills at all.
In the UK, there is research showing that:
Around 3.8 million households have no internet access.
One in five consumers lacks digital skills.
The need for government agencies to cater for everybody, including the digitally illiterate, is currently slowing the move to digital. A way needs to be found to deal with this obstacle while remaining inclusive. Digitally illiterate sections of society will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Their presence will make it complex to provide a high-quality, effective user experience to all.
These are challenges unique to government (since commercial organizations can usually select their customer base). And they are challenges that we must overcome.
GETTING RADICAL WHILE DELIVERING FULLY INCLUSIVE SERVICES
So what are the potential solutions for delivering “digital by default” while still ensuring that citizens who are less able to interact digitally can still link effectively with government?
One possibility is to adopt a channel-agnostic approach to services, yet provide one common underlying way of processing service requests. As well as bringing significant cost savings, this approach provides the citizen with a consistent process and user experience, whichever channel is used. Citizens can also shift between channels without causing confusion.
Thinking about digital transformation in a channel-agnostic way will have implications for organizational design within departments. To achieve a single, streamlined process enabling multichannel entry options, you first have to find an organizational model that will maximize cost savings and efficiency.
Inclusivity should extend to every one of a citizen’s life cycle events and the related needs. The organizational structure of government departments should be closely aligned with the life events of the citizen that are triggering interactions with government.
This event-based, cross-departmental advice must also be available to citizens who can’t use digital channels. For example, advocates working in citizen centers could provide advice on a range of issues, from starting a business and setting up a payroll to moving to a new home. A cross-departmental approach like this would require new models of funding, and the harnessing of skills and expertise provided by industry.
ACCELERATING THE DIGITAL JOURNEY – INCLUSIVELY
The necessity to provide equally for everyone can slow the digital journey. It is not always possible, or cost effective, to replace all paper communications with digital services, and long-established channels such as EDI can also constrain what can be achieved online. These obstacles can be overcome by rethinking today’s focus on maintaining paper-based equivalents for automated processes. If we broaden our thinking, other possibilities come into view, such as:
- Provision of assisted digital services, where agency employees in walk-in citizen centers help people to link all the government services they require to deal with a current life event.
- Use of agents for interactions with government. The role of the agent could be extended to a broader range of trusted third parties able to interact via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This would be a way to create citizen advocates who could provide the digitally excluded with equal access to services.
Considering new approaches to manage digitally excluded citizens can stimulate the market to shape and create more radical routes for citizens to engage with government, without government taking on the burden itself. This way, citizens become the force behind a radical – but inclusive – agenda, rather than a hindrance to it. The result is better services.
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 European Commission, “Future-proofing eGovernment for a Digital Single Market, Final Insight Report”, 2015
 Financial Conduct Authority, “Access to Financial Services in the UK”, 2016