Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public service organizations delivered for their constituents at a record pace. I’ve written about how the pandemic changed the way we have been collaborating with our public service clients. Now I’d like to focus on how the pandemic might change the way governments engage with the public over the long term.

Around the world, the pandemic prompted governments to loosen policies and accelerate the cycle of innovation. In many cases, people liked the resulting processes. After all, it’s much easier to renew government-issued licenses from a mobile phone versus having to visit an office in person. And among those receiving public benefits, it was much more convenient to submit an eligibility attestation via an SMS chatbot. Whenever the proverbial dust settles, government’s customers will expect these and similar changes to become the new business as usual.

Now we must answer a key question: Are the new ways of delivering service always the right thing to do? Where have we relaxed policies too much? And, where have speed and convenience created conditions ripe for fraud, waste and abuse? I don’t expect our governments to respond with bureaucratic reflexes akin to letting go of a rubber band where everything just snaps back to the way it was. And yet, the right answer isn’t to leave everything in “emergency mode,” either.

Across industries, the pandemic provided an impromptu laboratory in which to experiment. Now it’s time to get scientific about what’s working, what’s not and how we can keep the best (and eliminate the worst) going forward.

Government leaders face a series of complex challenges in setting their course for a post-COVID world. Our public agencies must deliver profoundly diverse services to an enormous range of constituents. Though it won’t be easy, it’s time to do the hard work of assessing which changes should become permanent and where we may need to restore more checks and balances.

This work needs to be tackled use case by use case for each government agency and each capability. The effort needs to consider the best ways to deliver services better, faster and cheaper – meeting constituents where they want to be. But the work also must acknowledge every government’s responsibility to distribute support, funding, licensing and other privileges and resources with accuracy and appropriate controls.

Once the use case analysis is complete, governments face the next big challenge: communicating with citizens about which changes will endure and which will be phased out. Some of those decisions may not be met with enthusiastic approval (especially the ones that require citizens to come back to government buildings). But if you’ve done the due diligence, you can provide an explanation why.

When governments apply the lessons of the pandemic and leverage today’s innovative technologies, they can truly forge a new era of public service. Let’s stay connected via LinkedIn and Twitter.

Ryan Oakes

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Global Public Service

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