Citizens have high expectations
Call them citizens rather than customers, but people increasingly expect the same quality of experience from the public sector, as they receive from the private sector. The accelerated move to online has only emphasized the similarities – and the disparities – of end user experiences in two realms. The simple truth is, the user experience connects every organization to its audience, whether they are citizens, customers, employees, or partners. Building a solid understanding of the user is no easy task but, unless you understand their circumstances, needs, and preferences, you won’t achieve the tipping point of acceptance and uptake of online government services.
The Covid-19 reality demands, more than ever, that the public sector pauses, focuses, and prioritizes learnings from the private sector. It’s clear that in the private sector, real-time data, smart algorithms, intelligent automation, the internet of things, and immersive technologies are enabling hyper-personalized, compelling user experiences. Public sector organizations must now harness new technologies to make life journeys in partnership with their citizens, enabling and enhancing signature moments.
But what’s different about creating superb user experiences in the public sector?
Purposeful thinking to overcome systematic problems
The public sector must deal with systematic problems that mean making fundamental changes to the system itself. Of course, any actions will have significant, long-term impacts on citizens, and so the stakes are higher and more complex, creating a different “lens” for the citizen experience.
In the private sector, the need to be profitable is an intrinsic motivation. eCommerce companies are close to the end consumer, and if the customer experience doesn’t deliver, there’s an immediate impact on the bottom line. In the public sector, teams are answerable to stakeholders, but not to shareholders. Policy making is by nature collaborative and can lag behind in terms of speed and responsiveness. To counter this, the public sector needs to embrace purposeful thinking, and implement top-down vision and goal setting, to drive a different kind of customer experience.
A different kind of relationship
There is a huge wealth of data in the public sector that can be used to create and improve services, but the constraints of such a highly regulated environment can be a barrier to innovation. Maintaining trust and confidence is vital. If something goes wrong, then the stakes are high and the scrutiny incredible, and so data security is taken extremely seriously. Innovators must analyze any threat or constraint, then rethink and reframe it in the regulatory context.
The relationships we have with public sector organizations are different to those we have with companies. Usually, we want interactions with government agencies only once, and through the most convenient channel. It’s not like choosing luxury shoes. Public services are about rights, obligations, and universal, fundamental needs that make it more complex to segment and understand citizens.
The public sector is taking inspiration from the best customer experiences private companies offer. This helps them widen the lens of what is possible and start to meet new expectations, around speed and ease of access of information, for consumer grade experiences. To demonstrate the point, we’ve identified a diverse range of stories, all taken from our report TechnoVision 2021 Public Sector Edition.
In New South Wales, Australia, Service NSW had to implement an API-led transformation of government legacy backend systems, delivering new digital services across 40 departments and agencies. The omnichannel, one-stop-shop gives access to 800 different services, resulting in 97% customer satisfaction across over two million citizens.
Major life events such as birth, marriage, or death traditionally require multiple interactions with various government services. The Danish Agency for Digitization developed coherent digital user journeys for ten significant events. Government services are customized to citizens’ needs and data only needs to be submitted once in the digital self-service portal, borger.dk.
The Government of Estonia, where all public services are set to go online, wanted to make the citizen experience less complex and rigid to use. Citizens now have an Alexa-like access to public services that is easy to use and accessible for everyone from any device, providing for an enhanced user experience level.
As these stories demonstrate, given the right circumstances, the public sector can deliver private sector standard user experiences. But why are inclusion, collaboration, and experimentation so crucial to their delivery?
Inclusion: Developing services for all citizens
Technology should be brought closer to the end user, the citizen. This demands a better dialogue between business and IT, and the public sector and citizens. Technology accelerates so fast, and things change so quickly, that we can’t assume what the public wants. Instead, we need to be constantly consulting them, confident enough to be proven wrong.
To achieve this, the public sector needs to ensure the new services it designs are inclusive. We have to ensure that we’re listening to the people we’re developing new services for, guaranteeing that solutions are accessible for everyone who needs them. It’s important that new technology doesn’t create more marginalized groups and even more inequalities. It helps if the teams building the products and services are diverse themselves, able to empathize with all citizens, using human-centered design skills to deliver appropriate, user-centric solutions, as we showed recently in our research report, The Key to Designing Inclusive Tech.
Of course, education is key to overcoming the digital divide. We need to support the people and charities on the ground who are doing this work, empowering them rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Our research on The Great Digital Divide examines why around half the world’s population is offline, and how that can be addressed through digital inclusion.
Collaboration: Involving diverse stakeholders in policymaking
The public sector also needs to become more product oriented, changing its organizations and adopting cross-functional teams to get products rolling out faster. This might also mean developing digital skills at leadership level. Our blog, “The public sector’s journey towards agile and scalable services” explores the challenges and opportunities.
Inevitably, the pandemic demanded that policies were set without access to the data that would validate them and predict their impact. From here on, the public sector needs to test and prototype new services from the beginning of the policy making process, rather than making the policy first and only later gathering data to understand how effective it was.
Government agencies should take the opportunity to experiment with simulating policy making to enable more informed decisions. This will help government departments put strategy in place, for example, helping to create a five-year plan, but in a way that is supported by pragmatic, tangible evidence.
Experimentation: Test, fail fast, and iterate
Experimenting validates the true value a service can deliver. Experimental test beds allow us to test our ideas, fail fast, and iterate quickly. By challenging our assumptions, we’re able to embrace the mantra, “experiment first, regulate later”. This is crucial, as sometimes the emphasis is so heavily on how to deliver things that we lose focus and priority.
Day-to-day, the public sector often struggles with the detail, like how to provision a server or how to access data, while setting up a simple test bed removes these constraints. What if you never had to access data to leverage data? What if it was the norm to experiment fast and regulate later? Synthesising data sets allows the creation of a digital twin that has the characteristics of the data but is not attributable to anyone. This allows us to detect patterns and experiment through an anonymized data set. There’s more about the “data doppelgangers” trend in our TechnoVision 2021 Public Sector Edition.
Another emerging technology called hash matching limits data access to a predetermined data set in a particular government agency. It’s highly possible that government organizations could become the most advanced in terms of experimenting with data, given the amount of data they have available. And a real opportunity to reframe how governments approach risk. Technology would replicate scenarios, without creating them in real world. Technology would manage the risk, allowing the public sector to bring more services to market faster.
Imagine, for example, that the decision was made to leverage cross-government synthetic data for fraud and error? How would that impact the accuracy of identification and improve citizen safety? How could private sector companies also experiment with adding value to citizen services and experience? These are fine examples of how the interaction points can be tested to identify the validity of an idea.
Focus on inclusion, collaboration, and experimentation
It’s clear the public sector has systemic issues, making it more urgent and more complex to improve the ease of interaction with government agencies. They key is to balance the pace of product innovation with reliability and security. The next generation will expect government organizations to know what they want, but with the caveat, “show me you know me, but not too much”. Only by truly understanding the end user by focusing on inclusion, collaboration, and experimentation, can the public sector deliver superb, consumer grade, citizen-centric experiences.
Global Offer Leader – AI in Public Sector
Senior Consultant, Insights and Data, Netherlands – Analytics Translator
Senior Director, Head of Customer Experience, Innovation and Technology
Enterprise Architect – Public Sector Innovation Lead Germany