Back in the 90s and early 2000s, a government’s digital success was measured by how much information they published online, or the number of transactions citizens could perform via the web. The approach was to make content and services available to citizens, with an “if you build it, they will come” mindset. But that way of thinking, what we used to call “e-Government”, is still very prevalent.
The world looks very different today. Digital is gradually taking over as the main channel for engagement for everything. With digital so pervasive in people’s lives, simply operating e-Government services won’t be enough to deliver true value to citizens. A different approach is needed that reflects and incorporates how people increasingly operate in a digital world.
To find out how well services match up to those demands we carried out some Singapore Public Sector-specific research. We wanted to assess how well a range of government’s e-Services performed compared with a set of proven “brilliant basics” that drive user satisfaction with online transactions.
As part of our research, we have also interviewed citizens to see at first-hand how they experience their digital interactions with government. One key finding? Governments are not paying enough attention to the context in which citizens go about searching for information and using e-Services.
Take one example. From a citizen’s perspective, buying a Housing & Development Board flat and understanding how Central Provident Fund contributions can support the purchase go hand-in-hand. But the information and transactions available from the two relevant agencies are definitely not designed to help them easily make the connection. It’s the same with other life events. Retiring and downsizing are likely to trigger questions about tax implications, CPF contributions and other issues. But citizens currently have no easy way to make the connections and answer their questions.
As well as where content is, how it’s organised also needs careful attention. Form matters as much as substance. When we interviewed citizens, we used eye-tracking to understand how they looked for information on agencies’ websites. What we found was that, especially for the more senior citizens, finding and understanding lengthy documentation on the web proves challenging. Many people actually give up before completing the transaction they set out to do.
All this points to a clear need to guide the design and delivery of digital services from a human perspective. That means using technologies that are available today to make services accessible, conversational and relatable. The emphasis needs to shift from the goal of maximum efficiency to inclusivity. Focusing on that can help reduce, or even eliminate altogether, the divide between the digitally savvy and people who are less familiar with technology. Failing to bridge that chasm risks perpetuating uneven access to many essential benefits and services.
So how to move forward. Review each e-Service not as an isolated transaction, but as part of an ecosystem designed to engage with citizens’ mindsets and meet needs. It’s also critical that e-Services are not seen as distinctive from physical channels, but are designed in tandem so that citizens can move seamlessly across and between digital and physical channels to complete transactions as easily and intuitively -above all as humanly – as possible.
And that truly human government approach raises a whole new way of supporting citizens with services that are relevant, timely and built around them. Instead of offering them discrete transactions and lengthy information organised by functions, governments will be able to ask and respond to the very simple, but powerful question: “what do you want to do today?”.