RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • We surveyed over 7000 people in 10 countries to identify the key priorities needed to deliver effective social services to the world’s citizens.
  • With nearly 600 million full-time jobs lost worldwide in the first half of 2020, social services have a vital role to play in people’s lives.
  • Following an extraordinary response, the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities in agencies’ organisational structures, delivery models and systems.
  • Meeting these challenges means social services needs to embrace new technologies that encourage human ingenuity and new ways of working.


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.

24%

of citizens expect to use more social services in the future.

40%

are already using employment-related services more often.

45%

of citizens believe they face a high risk of contracting COVID-19 at work.

56%

now shoulder significant caregiving responsibilities at home.

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.

In fact, the need for more government support has not translated into more positive views of government: some 31% of respondents rated their trust in government as low today, compared with just 23% before the pandemic.

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.

+70%

of executives and citizens agree or strongly agree that social services will look very different in the years ahead.

49%

of executives rated their own organisation as highly prepared for current and future challenges.

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:

Chart depicting data about types of services offered by 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.

11%

of the executives we surveyed said their agencies have deployed new services on a large scale during the pandemic.

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.

Accenture’s Virtual Visit Solution is another way that governments are making services more accessible while increasing trust through safe, on-demand delivery.

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.

56%

of executives said their agencies have not yet invested in virtual work solutions.

61%

haven’t invested in “modular and flexible infrastructure”, such as cloud.

74%

haven’t invested in big data and analytics.

76%

haven’t invested in artificial intelligence.

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.

Rainer Binder

Managing Director – Public Service, Social Services Lead


Meghan Yurchisin

Global Lead, PS Research & Thought Leadership – Accenture Research

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