Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)
Jan Alexa (Research Manager, IDC Government Insights)

European public services leaders are in search of the new ways to make their services citizen-centric, while reducing costs. But, while the citizen-first vision is widely recognized, it is often unclear what that means in practical terms.

Top business priorities of European government executives

In the real world, public service officials must balance the quality of services with often limited budgets, legacy processes and systems, and skill gaps. Investing in digital technology can speed up the modernization of public services, but that alone it is not enough. Public sector leaders need a holistic set of guiding principles to design, manage and operate the public services of the future.

Efficient, Trusted, Highly Responsive, Inclusive, Convenient Public Services

Citizens expect governments to be good stewards of their taxpayer money. They want governments to act transparently, while protecting their privacy. They want their requests resolved rapidly. They expect to access a high-quality service regardless of their income, ethnicity, or physical and mental abilities. And they want to access those services, when, where and how they prefer.

European public sector leaders that want to deliver against those expectations need to define and put in place a new ETHIC of public services: Efficient, Trusted, Highly responsive, Inclusive, Convenient:

 

Efficient

While governments commit to the continual improvement of services, the efficiency drive often plays an important role in decisions to introduce new digital services. Digital channels are viewed as a way to save scarce resources or direct them to the cases that need a more direct, personal, and offline touch.

  • The key questions that you should answer positively if the service provision is to be efficient are:
    Are we contributing to the efficiency of government services as a whole?
  • Is our roster of service channels sustainable in the long term?
  • Are front-end channels integrated with back-office processes to streamline service delivery?
  • Do we adhere to ex-ante budgetary expectations?

 

Trusted

The challenges stemming from the lack of privacy protection and cyberattacks by malevolent actors are becoming more acute. Citizens expect their data to be safe, secure and only handled by those who have good reason to do so.

The key questions that you should answer positively if the service provision is to be trusted are:

  • Do we have a resiliency strategy that outlines what would happen in several most likely cyberattack scenarios; and are processes and resources to deal with such a crisis in place?
  • Do we inform and explain enough about what we are doing, why we are doing it, how, and who is responsible in case something goes wrong?

 

Highly responsive

Responsiveness is at the centre of the citizen-centricity paradigm. The citizens should feel that the service is fast, and relevant enough for there to be no downside to foregoing personal contact with a government official.

Governments that try to proactively reach out to citizens or groups of citizens to personalize services, but fail to be responsive, will disappoint citizens.

The key questions that you should answer positively if the service provision is to be highly responsive are:

  • Do we provide citizens with enough feedback on the next steps that will happen?
  • Do we communicate where and when can they expect the government get back to them?
  • Do we communicate how they can appeal a decision?

 

Inclusive

As the government tries to roll out digital services and the economy as a whole becomes more digitized, a new societal rift emerges between digital natives and parts of the citizenry less exposed to digital technologies.

Also, the use of advanced analytics and AI could introduce unintended bias in decision making that penalizes certain neighbourhoods or income groups. One of the crucial challenges is to design services in a way that will help to close those divides, rather than exacerbate the problem.

The key questions that you should answer positively if the service provision is to be inclusive are:

  • Are your services acting to mitigate the digital divide instead of making it more pronounced?
  • Did you improve the equality of access across the socioeconomic divides by introduction of your newly digitized service?

 

Convenient

Citizens are accustomed to a certain level of convenience in the digital world, as the private sector and organizations such as banks and online shops have stepped up their efforts to make digital channel a choice of convenience.

The key questions that you should answer positively if the service provision is to be convenient are:

  • Are your services comparable in their convenience to the service that banks or online marketplaces would offer?
  • Have you set up easy to use channels for feedback and do you regularly evaluate how to act on this feedback?
  • Is the adoption of your digital services in line with your ex ante expectations?

 

By employing the new ETHIC of public service, public sector leaders can ensure the long-term sustainability of their initiatives. This applies to all parts of innovative public sector initiatives, from omni-learning education, to the transformation of national administration, to convenient-affordable-safe-environmentally sustainable mobility.

What Role Does Technology Play in ETHIC?

While technological change is certainly among drivers, tech-centric paradigms proved to be suboptimal in the delivery of public sector services. Digitalization greatly enhances the set of possible approaches and delivery channels for public services, but it’s the people that are at the centre of the change.

The old adage of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies doubly in the age of digital hammers; and it is something that European public sector IT and business executives should be wary about.

The focus on ETHIC should ensure that while you take advantage of all available technological possibilities, the main focus stays on citizen engagement, organizational change and intelligent processes.

The path towards the new ETHIC of public services is long. To start on the right track, public service leaders must:

  • Evaluate their organizations’ strengths and weaknesses with respect to the ETHIC guiding principles.
  • Take an incremental approach to designing and deploying ETHIC public services that leverage the capabilities and expertise of civil servants from across government departments, citizens and community organizations. Innovate with the end users, not just for the end user.
  • Collaborate with the broader ICT ecosystem, including open source communities, global suppliers, industry-specific specialists and start-ups to understand how emerging technologies can speed up the organization’s ability to deliver on the new ETHIC of public services.

 

If you want to learn more about this topic or have any questions, please contact Jan Alexa or Massimiliano Claps, or head over to https://uk.idc.com and drop your details in the form on the top right.

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