Redefining relationships: Fjord Trends for federal government
February 16, 2022
Throughout 2021, many people struggled to find their footing in the wake of the ongoing and unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing impacts of climate change, and other significant obstacles. Amid these challenges, our country continues to reckon with social injustice and inequity.
The hurdles of 2021 left people feeling disoriented. At the same time, overcoming them has kindled for many a renewed sense of resilience, with a growing recognition that we must take radically different approaches to move forward effectively and equitably.
Every year, Fjord, Accenture’s global design and innovation consultancy, analyzes the shifting human experience and maps the key trends that help to define for businesses both the challenges and the opportunities inherent in this moment. This year’s report – Fjord Trends 2022: The New Fabric of Life – acknowledges how the past two years have redefined relationships: Between individuals and institutions, between individuals and resources, and between individuals themselves.
It’s a complex time for any organization, but the government is tasked with arguably greater responsibilities – leading and supporting the American people as the country undergoes these tectonic social, cultural, and technological shifts.
“While each trend has significant implications for the future of government, together they underscore the profound ways in which we must shift to meet the changing relationships between the government, its employees, and the people it serves.”
– Kathy Conrad, Director of Digital Government
Federal agencies that are attuned to these trends will be better prepared to create experiences and interactions that meet the evolving needs of both their workforce and their customers.
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Fjord Trends 2022: The New Fabric of Life | Accenture
This year’s Fjord Trends analyzes five major trends emerging that have significant implications for the year ahead. View the report’s trailer.
We share this year’s trends and their federal implications below:
1. Come as you are.
For many people, the pandemic significantly altered life plans, or removed the barriers to what seemed like previously unobtainable changes like widespread remote work. In the face of this, individuals are now questioning what they find meaningful, and what they want to be doing in their careers. People are thinking differently about the sense of agency they have over their own lives.
In many cases, they’re finding new confidence to pursue passions, make major career shifts, and show up more authentically as themselves both at home and at work. With the rise of the side-hustle economy, there’s a growing sense of independence in how one can make a living, and workers are feeling less loyalty to one employer. All this impacts government’s relationship to its workforce and the people they serve.
Government already faces challenges in the race for talent. “Almost 30 percent of [federal] employees are older than 55, while 8.1 percent of employees are younger than 30,” reports the Office of Management and Budget. “By comparison, in the private sector, 23 percent of the workforce is younger than 30.” As people seek more meaning and agency in their employment, federal agencies must increasingly enhance and support the employee experience to compete for talent, particularly given the disproportionate number of federal employees who either are or will be eligible for retirement in the near future.
For a long time, government has often relied on the public mission to be the primary motivator and incentive for recruiting and retaining people. This will no longer be enough.
Instead, agencies must ask: Am I creating a community (either virtually or in-person) that offers authentic meaning and connections for my employees? Am I offering opportunities for continuous learning and growth? Am I caring for my employees’ holistic needs, both personal and professional?
In relation to services, the growing “me over we” mentality also places priority on creating more value for customers, including considering how to break down silos and build bridges across agencies and programs to better meet individuals’ needs. We are already seeing the government respond to this; the Biden-Harris President’s Management Agenda (PMA) and Executive Order on Transforming Federal Customer Experience issue a clear directive to enable cross-agency collaboration to create a more seamless, holistic CX built around people’s needs, not individual interactions and isolated processes.
Federal services will also need to adapt to the “Great Resignation”; if people are changing jobs more often and working multiple jobs, how can agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or Department of Labor adjust their policies and experiences to better support them? And how can agencies encourage and enable more mobility in federal careers, so that employees can easily switch to new jobs or agencies as their interests and skills evolve, without having to leave federal service?
2. The end of abundance thinking?
Supply chain issues and workforce shortages are upending the modern expectation that goods and services will be constantly available and convenient. From “abundance thinking,” we’re pivoting – often by necessity – toward a scarcity mentality.
But the response to this trend, particularly for federal government, cannot simply be “make more things.” Inherently tied up in this trend is the issue of inequity – for many underserved communities, resource deficiency has been a fact of life long before COVID-19. At the same time, climate change concerns drive awareness around the need to rein in overconsumption of resources.
To meet the needs of all people in the midst of growing scarcity and overconsumption, the U.S. federal government must redefine how it views, creates, and repurposes resources.
As such, we see two changes as necessary to the federal response to this trend:
More intelligent data. In-depth and actionable data creates accountability and transparency around where resources are being distributed and consumed, where government is driving impacts around climate change, and more.
“There’s a great opportunity to design with data for decision makers. Agency leaders want to better understand and measure where they place resources, the impact that drives today, and how to adjust for the impact we want to see tomorrow.” – Lauren Oliver, Group Design Director
A new emphasis on reuse. Agencies must redefine innovation so that it’s no longer just about always creating something new – rather, how can we make the most of an existing product or service with the resources at hand? This ties into the idea of a circular economy, or a system where value is continuously repurposed with the inputs at hand, and waste is minimized. Government can shift toward this mindset, engineering both objects and services with second, third, and fourth lives in mind.
By converging the physical and digital worlds, and enhancing them through extended reality technologies, the promise of the metaverse seeks to fundamentally transform how people meet, collaborate, and socialize. This could have widespread impacts on how government interacts with and trains its workers and provides services to its customers. At the same time, it may create new spaces that require government oversite and regulation to keep them safe and fair for all users.
Already, widespread remote work has prioritized the need for effective virtual workspaces. Nearly half (45%) of all federal employees teleworked in FY2020, compared to roughly 22% in FY19 and FY18. For remote federal workers hungry for social connection, the metaverse can potentially provide digital interactions that are more meaningful and flexible than a video or phone call by enabling 3D, immersive experiences.
We see employee training as one federal use case that can significantly benefit from the metaverse. The immersive nature of metaverse training may to be able to synthesize different points of view across a more diverse group of participants, making it a more inclusive process.
Service delivery will evolve too, with the metaverse potentially expanding the flexibility and accessibility of how customers can procure government services. For example, consider how Seoul’s metropolitan government is building its own metaverse: “In 2023, the city plans to open ‘Metaverse 120 Center,’ a place for virtual public services where avatars will handle citizen concerns that could previously only be addressed by physically going to city hall,” reports Quartz.
As the metaverse unfolds, government will need to pay special attention to securing these new virtual interactions, though.
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“Will they be private? Can they be trusted? Can they be hacked? The more cyber landscape you have, the more there is that can be vulnerable, and we need to be ahead of that.” – Lauren Oliver, Group Design Director
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4. This much is true.
The demand for and skepticism of information are simultaneously increasing. In the age of search engines, people are asking more questions, and expecting more immediate, convenient, and authentic answers. At the same time, rampant misinformation makes people increasingly distrustful of those answers and vulnerable to content that is not accurate.
This trend is especially pertinent to the public sector. Providing personalized, accurate, and in-depth information will be the cornerstone of maintaining and improving public trust in government. Already, Pew Research finds that only about one-quarter of Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (2%) or “most of the time” (22%).
For people to trust government, they need to be able to get answers quickly and conveniently, and they need transparency on par with what they receive from best-in-class private sector providers.
The impacts of vaccine hesitancy show what’s at stake, and how important it is for government to build trust with its constituents and present itself as an authoritative voice. People must be able to easily distinguish verified government information from misinformation – and ultimately believe it.
Government can build credibility by engaging in more channels with consistent, timely and accurate information, ensuring that people can easily obtain the information they need on the channel of their choice. More proactive customer engagement and personalized communication that anticipates people’s questions and concerns can also help demonstrate understanding of people’s needs, further building trust and confidence in government.
“When people struggle to find the information they need, it further degrades trust. Agencies should ask themselves how all of these trends are going to impact the questions people are asking and the places they are going to get their questions answered. If we are going to build trust, content needs to be easily discoverable and map to the continuously changing needs of the American public.”
– Megan Peterman, Group Director
5. Handle with care
Care and compassion are rooted in human nature, but the stresses of the recent past have made these traits a more prominent part of the public discourse. Empathy and kindness are now more visible and valued.
Consider how federal workers have been on the front lines of pandemic response, providing services that are core to America’s recovery. OPM acknowledged this stress in May 2021, advising agency leaders to be understanding and flexible with their workforce, and emphasizing the importance of supporting employees’ mental health. Public nods to the importance of care help instill it throughout the organization’s workforce.
Compassion is essential on the customer service side. For many federal services, customers are coming to agencies in moments of extreme vulnerability – after a loss of income, a natural disaster, or other significant life events. Many of these processes might disproportionally emphasize goals like efficiency or fraud detection over compassion and quickly and easily meeting individuals’ needs. As called for in the customer experience Executive Order and PMA, federal leaders should focus on streamlining and better integrating customer journeys for these life experiences, many of which involve multiple agencies. And federal leaders can build the emotional experience of interactions into core KPIs, to measure and improve upon them.
Overall, this trend speaks to the need to meet customers’ and employees’ specific needs. Agencies can build care into their organization by prioritizing accessibility and inclusivity. This includes efforts like ensuring the user experience meets the needs of persons with disabilities. It can also mean designing systems that allow people to choose their own pronouns, or to interact with government in their native language. Caring for every individual means ensuring equitable access and experience, no matter their background or particular needs.
“It’s about not leaving anybody behind when it comes to experiences or processes. What are the small wins that can make a big difference in how people feel when interacting with the government? This is a chance to build new technologies in a way that includes everyone.”
– Andrea Zegarra, Senior Visual Designer
Prepare for the future now
The Fjord Trends emphasize the need for long-term strategic thinking. As we all know, the pace of change is increasing, and the world looks increasingly different from year to year.
Not every change can be predicted, but by keeping an eye on broader trends, federal leaders can take a more proactive approach to meeting the shifting needs of employees and the people they serve.
It takes a concerted and deliberate effort to design systems that encourage trust and communicate care; processes that make thoughtful use of scarce resources; employment structures and immersive training opportunities that empower workers to express their fullest selves. By making the right investments in technology, people, and processes now, federal agencies can better respond to these powerful shifts.
Director – Accenture Federal Services, Digital Government
Group Design Director – Accenture Federal Studio
Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services, Accenture Federal Studio & Customer Experience Practice Lead
Associate Manager – Accenture Federal Services, Senior Visual Designer
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