Can government move from a service to an engagement delivery model?

There has been a great deal written about Citizen-centric government and the role of personalization in service delivery. Pretty much everyone agrees it requires a fundamental change to the delivery model for government agencies – from delivering services to citizens, to engaging them in the creation and consumption of those services. Are either government or its citizens ready for this move?

One thing for certain: things need to change. On the one hand, we have government designing and delivering large, monolithic services, and agencies working in silos that make it difficult for governments to gain a rounded view of their citizens. On the other, we have citizens increasingly used to having services – and their experiences – personalized to them. There is a growing disconnection between citizen expectations and service delivery capabilities.

Towards citizen engagement

As I discussed in a previous blog, there has been advancement in personalization, but the underlying delivery model has changed very little. The onus is still on the citizen to find and use the services. They still have to know what government agency they need, what the process is, and what forms to fill in.

Bob Sanders, General Manager of Arkansas Information Consortium, recently told a NIC webinar: “The burden is still placed on the citizen to find and use government services. The future will be Citizen-Centric, using new technologies to remove complexity and consolidating services. It’s about bringing government to the citizen instead of the citizen searching for government.”

To achieve citizen engagement, we want to foster and encourage the widest possible participation at every point of the service delivery process – from initial design to final retiring and replacement. I agree with Dr Moataz Binali, Regional Strategic Director at SAP when he says: “a well-planned digital government environment offers greater opportunities for building collaborative and participatory relationships among all relevant stakeholders”.

But, I have a caveat.

Personalized services for everyone?

Are we in danger of creating amazing personalized services designed primarily for those who we already know are happy to engage with us? There have been many articles on the expectations of Millennials and how governments must deliver comparable experiences to private organizations or “risk becoming irrelevant“.

A common example given is the new business trying to set up and needing help with forms and a licence.

While this is all valid, I think it overlooks one very important fact. It is the most vulnerable within our society that the majority of government services are designed to help. These are the people that are likely to be the least equipped or willing to engage. Many citizens simply don’t know how to properly engage, what their entitlements are, or how they go about getting them.

When moving to personalized, citizen-centric government, we must keep this constituency firmly central to activities for two reasons: First, we will not gain all the process efficiencies and cost improvements on offer if a large group of people are still reluctant to engage. Second, if that happens, no matter how much data we gather and how well we’re able to craft individual services, we’re likely to end up with program ineffectiveness. One commentator suggested the challenge for personalization in government was to “anticipate what citizens want before they want it“. To me, that sounds much like what we’ve always done – only with much more data to justify our decision!

A platform for participation

Although not everything can be solved by technology – this is as much about how government agencies re-shape processes and find new ways to work with all stakeholders – the creation of a centralized digital platform can provide a foundation for the delivery of personalized services to everyone who needs/wants them. I suggested this in my earlier blog and someone asked what that platform might look like. Without going into technical detail, here are a few components I think that platform requires:

Insight-driven

Most governments have huge amounts of information on their citizens. It’s just locked away in departmental and agency silos. This has been augmented by information gathered though things like contact with the call center or frontline staff as well as social media engagement. Advanced analytics allow you to go through all this structured and unstructured data to derive actionable insight and predict service requirements. Add the intelligence garnered from actual conversations with citizens into your platform.  Yes, we still need to speak with people occasionally.

Enterprise-wide and beyond

Let’s be honest, every government agency has legacy systems and processes that aren’t going to disappear soon. There are silos of information and there can be very good reasons for these remaining. We don’t always need to remove the silos – we just need access to the data they contain. This is true within the government agency and with its key stakeholders. The platform must be able to access the correct information wherever it is and make it available in the right format to serve the citizen.

Omni-channel delivery

There is a clear understanding that citizens will use multiple channels to engage with you. They expect to be able to start a transaction on one platform and finish it on another. I mostly hear people talk about starting on a PC or tablet and finishing on a cell phone. But omni-channel is omni-channel. Email, fax, phone and paper are still major ways in which government agencies and citizens communicate – they also need to be integrated into the platform.

Customer experience at the core

This sounds a little obvious. However, as we’ve seen, much early personalization activity has been about putting an individualized front-end on traditional service models. The platform has to enable the transition to citizen engagement informing service development and delivery. That means accepting inputs from citizens, personalizing correspondence throughout the lifecycle of the service and being able to quickly and automatically target communication to individual citizens – again employing their preferred channel.

Data security and privacy

The security and protection of personal information is paramount. You have to be able to keep data safe in transit and at rest. It is essential that government agencies take a holistic approach to data security that includes protection, detection, recovery and removal. It is important that governments securely hold citizen’s personal data for as long as it’s required for service delivery or improvement and implement effective retention and defensible deletion policies.

Embedded identity management

The platform should provide a simplified and unified infrastructure for connecting government agencies and stakeholders. It requires a government-wide means of digitally identifying citizens so that they don’t have multiple log-ins to access their services. In addition, the identity management embedded within the platform should encompass the identity of devices as well as people to enable the smooth connection of citizens with the mobile workforce.

Supply chain integration

If a shopper can easily see where their product is in transit, why shouldn’t your citizen be able to see when one of your suppliers will arrive to carry out a repair? The process from initial request to final job completion should be seamless and the hand-offs between government and suppliers invisible. This requires that the same platform designed to deliver customer experience should also be able to organize the supply chain in order to deliver the promised level of service (i.e. pothole repair, gas leak, snow removal).

We are still at the early stage of the personalization journey and no one has all the answers to driving citizen participation. If we look beyond the internal benefits of being better able to streamline and target services, we are actually talking about a process of democratization.

We are giving people the opportunity to have much more say in the things that happen to them. When we talk about personalization and Citizen-centric government, we’re talking about all citizens and we have to build digital government that takes this into account.

Carol Brock

Carol is the Industry Marketing Strategist for the Public Sector worldwide. An Information Governance Expert by education and training with 20+ years of experience in federal and state government, she is passionate about facilitating digital government to provide electronic services to citizens. With initiatives such as digital first, open data, and smart cities, there is much to talk about.

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