Accenture’s Fjord Trends 2022 research casts an interesting light on developments brought about by the pandemic. The report shows that nearly two years of disruption to the fabric of society triggered a collective shift in our relationships with work, consumerism, technology and the planet.  This deep change is pushing companies to design new ways of doing business. And in my view, the same is happening in the public service industry. 

Three of the trends from this year’s Fjord Trends resonate particularly well for public service organizations. These include “Come as you are,” which reflects people’s growing sense of agency over their lives; andThe next frontier,” which heralds the cultural explosion ignited by the metaverse.  

I’ll talk about both of these in future blogs. But here, I’m going to zero in on the third trend relevant to public services: “Handle with care.” 

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Caring takes on new meaning 

The collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the importance of  care in all its forms: self-care, care for others and the service of care. Even the channels through which care is delivered, (both digital and physical) have become much more prominent today.  

The emphasis on care and empathy has created opportunities and challenges for employers and brands — in the healthcare and medical sectors and beyond. This isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The responsibilities around caring for ourselves and others will continue to be priorities in our lives. Your public and private sector organization should embed care into how it designs and delivers services, both for your own people and the people you serve. 

Bringing compassion and care to people’s real lives 

For many public service organizations, a key aspect of care is how you connect with citizens. Ask yourself, how can we link people to programs that provide the best outcomes and benefits?  

A new mindset is needed, with your organization thinking more creatively about what care means, and how you deliver it to the public. This means doing more than just helping them access an individual program. The trend for self-care needs to be embraced and, where possible, made accessible to all, with people placed at the heart of coordinated sets of interventions that help them improve their lives in multiple dimensions.  

Here are a few examples of how “whole person focused” care in public service looks. 

Finding hidden skills 

Examples of interventions might include reskilling opportunities to help people find more fulfilling and rewarding jobs. These opportunities could have positive impacts across all their needs and potentially reduce the amount of government support needed.  

For example, Accenture worked with a US state government agency to improve digital literacy skills and connect people to jobs where those skills were required. The research showed us that, even though people may identify as having low digital literacy, they use digital channels all the time. They shop online. They use social media and instant messaging to keep in touch. But they have low confidence in their ability to apply these digital skills on the job. 

The key message? When someone’s looking for a job, you must address the whole person, including the skills they've developed over their lifetime but don’t even realize they have. Recognizing the whole person is crucial in supporting people in a way that's tailored to them, connecting them to the right collection of public services to support their journey toward employment.  

Revealing hidden benefits 

An unemployed or underemployed single American mother of an infant may know she qualifies for Medicaid-subsidized healthcare. But chances are, she doesn’t know she may also qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children). If the government gives them access to these additional programs, the data show that the cost to serve goes down and the health and mortality rates of the family improve. It’s a win/win from both a fiscal and social impact perspective. 

Connecting hidden partners 

“Handle with care” can also involve going beyond connecting people with the obvious government support programs. Working with private faith-based and community-based social programs in various states, we realized that partnering with non-governmental service agencies in the community ecosystem can often drive better long-term outcomes than their larger government equivalents.   

One example is work we did to help reduce infant mortality rates in Ohio. We found that sending families brochures about the dangers of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) had very little impact. If we sent somebody from outside their community to talk to them, the results were broadly similar. But when we activated a church-based group or a community-based organization to connect with the families, it significantly increased levels of engagement.  

Care to do better 

From the perspective of public service organizations, “Handle with care” is about understanding the data that a community member provides when they sign up for one program, then connecting the dots to other programs that could help address the needs of that whole person.  

My next blog will focus on another of the Fjord Trends most relevant to public services, “Come as you are.” Stay tuned! 

Kevin Ellenwood

Managing Director – Accenture Song