“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” are the famous opening words of Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. It’s a story about people living in Paris and London around the time of the French Revolution. Opportunities in these cities were endless, but it was yet to be seen what kind of future would emerge. Fast forward almost 200 years since Dickens penned his novel and we find ourselves in the middle of another revolution. This one is a digital revolution, in which cities once more play a crucial role.
Covid has confined many of us to home, making digital services more important than ever. However, sometimes it seems that European municipal governments are not yet able to meet the needs of citizens effectively in the digital realm. While urban populations are becoming more digital, there still remains a question of whether government can digitalize public services rapidly enough to keep pace with expectations.
We can get an answer to this question in the 18th annual eGovernment Benchmark study published by Capgemini for the European Commission. The study assesses the digital maturity of eGovernment in European countries, including over 100 different government services on more than 7,000 web pages. Think, for example, about doing your income taxes, starting up a company, or applying for unemployment benefits. The study also evaluates services that are often delivered by cities and towns, such as registering in a new city after moving house, obtaining a parking permit, or applying for parental authority after your children are born.
Cities and Central Governments – who is the winner?
So, how do towns and cities measure up when compared to central government? It is clear from the survey data that local government is lagging behind at present:
- It should be easy to access services online, but in towns and cities citizens often still have to visit a physical local authority building, with just 59% of local government services provided online. Compare that to 85% of services available via a ‘digital city hall’ for central government.
- People expect to be able to quickly find information via their mobile devices, but some local governments are still using websites that are not mobile friendly. Currently, only 81% of local government websites are adapted to mobile phones, compared to 90% for central governments.
- The global pandemic has seen more and more citizens using digital identities in their day-to-day online activities but just 29% of local governments enable electronic identification (eID) versus 71% for central government.
- Data reuse, where online forms are prefilled using information already known by other services, offers cost savings and service efficiency but its uptake is much lower in cities at 31% when compared to 71% for central government.
What is causing the cities ‘deficit’?
The eGovernment Benchmark study points to several problems that need to be addressed before local government can accelerate towards the digital outcomes defined in the European Commission’s policy program ‘Path to the Digital Decade’:
- Lack of cooperation: Despite providing the same or similar services, it is very much a case of reinventing the wheel time and again as each local authority builds its own website from scratch. As well as being a waste of resources, this lack of standardization and re-use makes it harder for cities to implement eID and authentication sources. It is often the result of existing procurement agreements.
- Lack of knowledge and/or lack of funding: Smaller towns and cities have issues with capacity, for example they struggle with finding the right personnel to develop and maintain digital solutions. Larger cities must address a different problem in that they are often siloed, which prevents seamless citizen-centric delivery of a complex array of services and information.
- An inside-out approach: You’d think that local authorities would know the citizens they serve better than central government does, but their starting point is often legacy IT systems and processes rather than the service user on the other side of the screen. Instead of forging closer ties with the citizens and business they serve, city and town authorities are falling behind their central government counterparts who have seen more investment in citizen-facing service delivery.
Towards the citizen-centric city
So, how can local authorities catch up? What do they need to do to move towards that ‘Society 5.0’ ideal where problems are no longer solved in a fragmented, siloed manner, but are re-imagined to deliver public value for society as a whole?
We advocate being more collaborative, participative, and proactive.
For smooth and seamless collaboration, interoperability is key. It’s time for local authorities to start collaborating with other cities and central government and stop reinventing the wheel. By using so-called key enablers for digital government, such as eID and base registries for personal data, cities can make their services more friendly and more secure. Hungary offers a fine example: the eMunicipality Portal is a one stop shop for all digital services delivered by local governments. Over 99% of the 3,200 municipalities participate and can use eID for prefilled forms that are populated with data from across different services and municipalities. Another solution is to use standardized online templates to provide the same service from whichever city is being accessed. This keeps web design costs down and gives users consistency when people move from city to city.
Cities should design services for citizens with input from citizens themselves in an outside-in approach. This means turning the current approach to citizen experience on its head. Rather than considering the end user after previously made choices like “What IT-systems should we use?” or “What procedures are necessary?”, the experience of the citizens should cause the choice of systems and procedures. Governments must change the starting point of their services by making the citizen central in crafting their choices and directions in a citizen-centric approach.
You’ve moved to a new city and want to register for all the local government services you’d been receiving in your previous home. You might need to apply for a parking permit outside your new home. Or perhaps you’ve registered the birth of a child with your local authority but don’t know how or when you start receiving child allowance payments. How great would it be if you did not have to reapply? For example, a citizen’s de-registration from one address and registration with a new one could be automatically linked to the local parking permit team or postal services so that mail goes automatically to the new address. A citizen claiming a benefit in one city could be automatically offered local job support on moving to a new location. This proactive approach, however, requires siloed departments and different local authorities to open up their data, organize it, and ensure citizens know what it’s being used for. Not all local authorities are ready to take this step yet.
Good for citizens; good for budgets
If the benefits of building citizen-centric eGov services still aren’t enough to persuade cities of the compelling business case for accelerating change, there is always the obvious financial outcome. In effect, efficient, proactive, shared, and user-centric service delivery is cheaper service delivery.
Greater use of eID means the cost of having staff on hand to manually verify a citizen’s identity can be cut; pre-filled online forms require less human intervention, which frees up staff to focus on delivering higher value services; shared online portals, equate to shared costs; user-friendly websites and services for which citizens can provide feedback, report a problem, or pay a bill via their mobile device both improve compliance and enable government to deal with an issue quickly and cost effectively; and digital post solutions for communicating with citizens and businesses eliminate postage costs, while offering sustainable alternatives.
It all adds up. Isn’t it time to accelerate citizen-centric eGovernment beyond just central government to embrace cities and towns too?
Find out more
- Read the full eGovernment Benchmark study
- Read our blog: Is government doing enough to enable an inclusive aging digital society?
Contact the authors by email:
Senior Consultant and Digital Government Expert, Capgemini Invent
Manager and Digital Government Expert, Capgemini Invent
Vice President and EU Lead, Capgemini Invent