Between July and September 2020 we spoke to more than 7,000 people who’d received a social service within the past two years, and 600 executives currently leading social services, employment, public pension and child welfare agencies within the ten different countries surveyed.
Unsurprisingly, in a time when 600 million full-time jobs were lost worldwide in the first half of 2020, social services have never had a more vital role to play in people’s lives. Agencies across the world have been on the front line of the crisis, deploying critical services and handling an explosion in workload. But while their response has been extraordinary, the pandemic has also exposed the vulnerabilities in their organisational structures, delivery models and ways of working.
Agencies under strain
Globally, social services agencies are feeling the strain. Most executives said the need to do things like create new digital offerings, handle soaring demand for digital services and respond quickly to policy changes poses big challenges for their agencies.
The Key Priorities
As agencies rethink how—and what—they offer citizens, three priorities stand out:
Priority 1: Becoming more responsive
Today, agencies face higher demands for their services, new technical hurdles such as social distancing rules, and rising expectations among citizens over service quality. All of these developments make it harder to deliver services quickly and effectively—yet this will never be more vital in dealing with the crises to come.
Looking across the efforts by leading social services agencies worldwide to be more responsive, a clear theme emerges: those in the vanguard have the biggest impact on their citizens’ lives by delivering services in a frictionless way, and meeting citizens’ needs with personalised experiences wherever and whenever they require.
Digitally advanced countries:
And, while some of these more digitally advanced countries—notably Singapore—have made great progress, most social services agencies across the world are not yet making the most of the powerful tools.
Priority 2: Becoming more accessible
Our research clearly indicates that improving accessibility and transparency helps to build trust and belief in the leadership and support offered by government. But an equally important message is that making services more relevant will do little good if citizens are not aware of the choices available to them: 89% said they lack sufficient guidance on what services they’re eligible for, while 43% said that reduced waiting times would be the best way to increase their trust in government.
Improved communication with citizens is a crucial way to make social services more accessible and help reduce waiting times. Smart technologies, such as AI, chatbots and broader, virtual outreach programmes can play a vital role in achieving this.
Priority 3: Embracing human ingenuity and new technologies
As our report reveals, delivering improvements in both responsiveness and accessibility is both vital and challenging and agencies need to devote effort and investment inside their organisation for citizens to see results on the outside. While trying to keep pace with their citizens’ needs, it’s particularly important for agencies to embed a more ‘agile’ organisational mindset – one that supports the development of new ideas and the adoption of new technologies.
Yet, this is something that most agencies appear to be postponing—even as employees see the benefits of the investments made to date.
Towards a brighter future for citizens –and agencies
Alongside its many other impacts, COVID-19 has dramatically underlined the crucial role of government social services in supporting the world’s most vulnerable citizens. It has also demonstrated the need for more effective delivery of those services. Improving technologies is clearly part of the solution, but equally important is embracing new organisational mindsets and ways of working, to ensure those technologies have the greatest impact.
Agencies that commit to meeting both imperatives today, will open the way to a brighter future for themselves and their citizens.