When it comes to digital transformation in government, trust is as important as technology. Here’s why.

Trust—it’s a concept that is inherently nuanced. What, exactly, does it mean to trust a person or an institution? Are there degrees of trust? How is trust earned? How is it preserved over time?

Though challenging in any setting, trust is especially complex in a digital context. We often have less confidence that our online counterparts are acting honorably due to the relative anonymity of the Internet. And our faith in systems that house our most intimate information is shaken daily by reports of continuous breaches, cyber-attacks and the schemes of bad actors.

Those risks exist alongside powerful opportunities to use the Internet and social media as vehicles for fostering stronger, deeper, and better relationships among individuals and with the organizations that serve them.

Government, of course, is not immune from the nuances or challenges of trust. How can government build and maintain trust among citizens in a digital world?

Dimensions of citizen trust

Citizen trust has several critical dimensions.

  1. Citizens need to have a fundamental trust in government and each agency’s ability to deliver services and solve problems as promised.
  2. Citizens need trust specifically in digital government and an agency’s ability to adequately safeguard personal, and often sensitive, information.
  3. Citizens need a way to verify that communications—email and text messages, websites, and phone calls or letters directing them to online sites—are indeed from real and trustworthy government sources.

Those challenges are compounded as agencies move to increase the level of personalization in digital interactions—from integrated records that provide a broader view of a client’s situation to dynamically tailored website content. Those challenges are compounded as agencies move to increase the level of personalization in digital interactions—from integrated records that provide a broader view of a client’s situation to dynamically tailored website content.

Realities of citizen trust

In October 2017, Government Business Council (GBC) and Accenture surveyed more than 700 individuals from federal and defense agencies. The study revealed some compelling findings regarding current levels of citizen trust—and opportunities to nurture stronger relationships:

It’s all about trust.

  • 82% of respondents agree/completely agree that their organization’s success hinges on trusted interactions with citizens.

There’s room to improve.

  • Nearly 80% of respondents believe that citizen trust in government is weak/weaker than ever
  • Attribute this to lack of confidence in government/organization leadership (22%),
  • Poor customer service (14%),
  • Lack of effectiveness (13%),
  • Government cyber threats/data breaches (13%),
  • Lack of process/service transparency (12%).

Building trust is a top priority.

  • We asked respondents how their organization should prioritize a list of objectives. Respondents ranked building citizen trust as the fourth-most important objective. Improving services, increasing efficiency, and adopting new systems/technologies were the top-three priorities.

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Five ways to start building trust

  1. Understand—and meet—your citizens where they are. Gain insight on the context of the engagements citizens have with your agency. Understanding that will help you design the expectations of citizens’ experiences with your agency.

    Consider developing personas, customer experience (CX) journey maps and comprehensive service blueprints to understand and address citizen needs at scale.

    Fortunately, mapping these insights with virtual settings can provide an opportunity for trust to be negotiated and nurtured—especially with entities that people do not physically see.

    At the same time, recognize that while building trusted interactions with citizens digitally will be an ongoing need, building trust in interactions offline will continue to be important. That is especially true for tougher-to-reach audiences.

  2. Give the people the power. Empower citizens by simplifying and explaining in plain language the often complex process they are engaging in.

    Give them the ability to opt in and then help them understand what opting in means for them, how the information will be used, what to expect next and what their participation will enable.

  3. Communicate the benefits. Educate citizens about how their information will be used, why, and how it can benefit them.

    Citizens may be more willing to engage digitally when they gain something in return—whether that’s faster processing or more personalized content or attention.

    For example, in the commercial world two-thirds of consumers are willing to share personally identifiable information (PII) in exchange for some perceived value. One-quarter are willing to share PII for a higher level of service or the ability to choose which data is shared with third parties. (Source: A New Slice of PII with a Side of Digital Trust)

    Remember: Communication is two-way, and citizens have plenty to say. Acknowledge their feedback and address their concerns—whether they are personal questions or issues in times of crisis. Every time you handle those situations well you build or reaffirm trust.

  4. Be transparent. Demystify the digital experience. Share the movement of processes and be clear about data usage intentions. Empower citizens to feel ownership and have access to their records at their convenience.

    Just as important, take ownership when things go wrong. A swift, decisive response lets citizens know safeguarding measures are in place, advances are to come, and citizens’ concerns are being heard and addressed.

    In fact, Accenture research showed that in four of 10 cases, consumer trust in a company increases when breaches are handled swiftly and correctly. (Source: A New Slice of PII with a Side of Digital Trust) This kind of transparency is vital to helping overcome obstacles to citizen trust.

    "41 percent of respondents said their most desired feature in a civic engagement service is feedback on whether their request was received and confirmation when the issue is resolved." (Source Getting citizens use of citizen engagement platforms.)

  5. Build in privacy and security. Technology is continually advancing, and there are new and increasingly effective ways to support trust.

    For example, agencies are adopting two-factor identity authentication to provide assured identity in a scalable, non-invasive way.

    Blockchain technology has shown promise for being especially useful in protecting PII. Use it to track digital transactions and store digital records with some key properties—including immutability, decentralizations, and tamper-evidence.

    Meanwhile, ensure privacy and security are also central to the organization’s culture. Every person in the agency workforce should be making decisions and taking action through that lens.

From "Touch Points" to "Trust Points"

As interaction quality improves—and blockchain and AI implementations become more common—quality of trust is becoming the supreme differentiator. It is driving a shift in focus from "touch points" to "trust points."

As part of this change, organizations must explore how to build trust through radical transparency. At all times, their focus must be fixed on the human response to transparency—without getting hung up on the technology that can deliver it. This idea leans in on the focus of “In transparency we trust,” one of seven Fjord Trends for 2018.

Read more about the need to shift focus from "touch points" to "trust points"—along with the other six trends—in this year’s full report.

Kathy Conrad

Director – Accenture Federal Services, Digital Government

Jen Combs

Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services, Security


Futureframe: Human-centered design at societal scale
Designing for equitable and trusted customer experiences

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