Digital by Default: What Will Citizen Journeys Look Like in the Digital Future?

Digitisation is not only changing the face of business with new and disruptive business models, but is also offering completely new perspectives on enhancing government services.

The Cordence Worldwide (CWW) network, of which North Highland is a proud member, met in 2018 to bring together our global knowledge and experience in the public sector and to develop ideas of the future of government services. North Highland’s Andrew Pennycuick and Craig Spence were asked about the citizen journey of the future – here’s what they had to say.

Q: Before we begin, what exactly do we mean by ‘a citizen journey’?

A: Any time a citizen interacts with their government they undertake a journey. This is triggered by either the citizen or state needing or wanting something. From the citizens perspective, this could be the need to replace their passport, or a desire to register to vote. Similarly, from a state perspective, they may want to intervene to support a vulnerable child or arrest a criminal. Regardless of the topic, the path taken from an initial need or want being recognised to it being fulfilled is what we mean by the citizen journey.

Q: What are the challenges in making citizen journeys digital by default?

A: Digital transformation is hard. The appetite for making citizen journeys digital by default is unquestionable, but this often comes face-to-face with some considerable challenges.

Firstly, there’s the combined issue of legacy and volume; governments have a massive array of existing services that were designed in an analogue era. Untangling each service, grappling with legacy systems, designing the new digital service and then delivering it is time consuming and costly.

Secondly, government services are often highly complex, and the stakes are high. Citizen journeys often require authentication to prove a person is who they say they are, the involvement of multiple government departments and interaction with back-end operations - these are just three of the variables that must be considered.

Third, states need teams with the necessary expertise to achieve digital by default services. Skills such as service design, user research, content and UX design are not traditionally held in government departments. Training staff in these areas and/or hiring new talent is expensive and governments must compete with a rampant talent market for digital professionals.

Q: How are citizens’ needs and wants evolving, and what impact does this have on government service providers?

A: There is definitely a significant trend towards further digitisation of public services. Citizens are used to doing everything they want to do online, from shopping to dry cleaning, so the private sector has led the way in raising expectations.

Digital is nothing new, but it is evolving, and this has also changed what citizens expect. One expectation in particular is worth highlighting: citizens expect to be remembered and to not be forgotten. It is infuriating to have to re-enter information that you have already given elsewhere, and citizens now expect governments to be joined up across departments.

Equally, people are waking up to issues of data protection - the implementation of GDPR within the EU for example - has shifted the balance of personal data power.

Q: What are the benefits to governments of making citizen journeys ‘digital by default’?

A: Often overlooked, is the benefit to governments derived from having better data. Digitising services provides much better information about how citizens are interacting with governments; it shows regional discrepancies, generational trends, resource pressure and much more. Ultimately, better data allows governments to make better decisions and achieve better outcomes.

Q: What does the future look like?

A: Firstly, it will increasingly be dominated by digital journeys with services moved online. For governments, an online service can offer enormous cost savings. We can expect to see more and more examples as citizens begin to trust digital services with things that matter most to them.

Secondly, the future of citizen journeys is one designed for the citizen and not the state. Governments are carved up into departments, and each one owns different services provided to citizens. All too often this means citizens having to go to myriad different government websites or locations to meet their needs. The future is one of consolidation, with journeys seamlessly crossing departmental boundaries. Citizens do not care who owns the service but rather that the experience is frictionless requiring little effort on their part.

Lastly, when looking at the future of citizen journeys you cannot ignore emerging technologies. It is a certainty that Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, and other technologies will dramatically change how governments provide services and how citizens interact with them.

Q: Where can we already see innovative citizen journeys?

A: Everywhere! One example is in the United States where predictive analytics is being used to make better judgement calls when managing sensitive social care cases. Often there is a failure because the state takes no action to protect vulnerable people, and as a result, no citizen journey takes place. The lack of action is often due to a lack of information or a failure of decision-making, and this approach is an innovative solution to that problem. Using the data available to them and algorithms, the state agencies can better judge whether there is a need to intervene, ultimately allowing them to better protect vulnerable citizens preemptively.

In the second interview from this ‘Digital Future of Government Services’ series, Mark Dunwell talks about disruptive technologies in Public Sector.

For more on North Highland’s public sector expertise, click here.