Solving a digital dilemma with inclusive and trusted government services

Former US President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” It was a statement made in 1863, but its essence still holds true today as governments strive to continue serving citizens to the best of their abilities.

But what does this look like in the digital age? The proliferation of technology around the world has, on the one hand, brought an unprecedented degree of convenience and opened many doors for citizen engagement. On the other hand, it has created a digital divide, further exacerbating inequalities in societies and fueling mistrust as misinformation spreads.

At GovInsider’s 2022 Innovation Festival, government leaders and technologists came together to discuss how best to close the gap while ensuring continued trust among citizens.

Citizen-centric technology

In Estonia, a Baltic country, technology has become an integral part of everyday life. “We have reached a point where almost anything and everything you need or want to do with the government, you can do online,” former Estonian government IT director Siim Sikkut told a panel. entitled “Citizen-centricity at the heart of digital transformation”. This includes government services such as health care, business registration, education, and citizen engagement.

But only when governments focus on the user and the citizen from day one will they have a chance to maximize the traction of their digitization initiatives, Sikkut said. He said one way for governments to do this was to introduce legislation to give governments “a kick in the ass”.

Estonia, for example, has introduced a “one-time-only” rule, which states that citizens only need to submit their information to the government once in order to access all government services.

Focusing on citizens can also help government agencies address and overcome any resistance citizens may have to their services. Governments can achieve this by better understanding their citizens’ needs, where their challenges lie and what their social norms are, said Mohamed Hardi, chief information officer at the National Heritage Board of Singapore.

It’s about getting the public sector to meet people “where they are”, rather than getting people to meet them, said Cherie Tseng, editor of social enterprise The Birthday Collective , who moderated a panel titled “Democracy 2.0: The Future of Public Engagement”. .

Inclusion in the midst of digitization

When governments move their services online, some may be left behind. For example, seniors are a key demographic that may struggle with technology.

“People over the age of 60 often need support and help with government digital services,” said Ng Seng Ping, regional vice president of ASEAN public sector at the software-based provider. on the Salesforce cloud. Ng was citing research by a Report on the imperative of trust by Salesforce and Boston Consulting Group.

Meeting the needs of older people is particularly important in countries like Singapore, whose population is aging even as society is rapidly digitalising. The Central Provident Fund Board (CPF) – the body that administers the country’s mandatory savings and retirement system – in particular, must cater to this demographic. She does this by rethinking her relationship with seniors.

“We no longer just want to have a government-citizen relationship – we aspire to be a trusted friend to our senior citizens,” said CPF chief information officer Wong Yan Jun.

To do this, trust must take center stage as the currency of public service. Wong said three key elements are needed to promote trust: care, competence and communication.

First, governments must be careful to put themselves in the shoes of citizens to understand their situation and their concerns. Then they must create competent solutions to solve their problems through communication. And finally, they must be able to communicate these solutions to citizens to demonstrate their genuine willingness to help.

“We no longer just want to have a government-citizen relationship – we want to be a trusted friend
to our senior citizens”

Wong Yan Jun, Chief Information Officer, CPF

One of the ways CPF puts these three principles into practice is by customizing the design of its websites to meet the needs of seniors. For example, he recognized that the elderly can suffer from deterioration of vision. To solve this problem, he chose a sans serif typeface and ensured strong color contrast between the website backgrounds and the type for an easier viewing experience.

Ghana, a West African country, is making a conscious effort to create easy-to-use technology so that even those who are less digitally savvy can access digital services. This means reducing the number of steps needed to access a government portal and providing many language options to cater to the country’s diverse tribal and ethnic groups.

Trust us, we are the government

One obstacle that many government agencies face when digitizing their services is a growing mistrust of technology, Wong said.

He attributes this distrust to three key notions: the perception that technology abuses, breaks and cheats. In order to build trust in their digital services, governments will therefore need to respond to these perceptions.

First, citizens do not know for what purposes government agencies may use their data. Wong gave the example of cookies on websites. Government sites often require users to agree to the use of cookies before they can use the site, but many may be suspicious of what their data is being captured and used for.

Governments can solve this problem by creating a two-way communication channel with people. Ghana, for example, required local authorities to organize platforms through which people could engage with government officials in town hall-style meetings.

The country has also set up a grievance mechanism to close the feedback loop with its citizens. Through this mechanism, citizens get clear confirmation that their concerns have been heard and they receive feedback on how those concerns will be addressed.

Second, the technology must work well for citizens to trust it. Whenever technology breaks down and citizens suffer the inconvenience, their trust in digital services is shaken. “There’s nothing more frustrating than using an app and trying to access an online service, and it doesn’t work,” said Lily Fati Soale, Director of Finance and Administration General at the Ghanaian Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs.

Fundamentally, governments need to ensure that as they digitalize, their network infrastructure is able to adequately support the digital services they offer. Governments should also ensure that technology is reliable when citizens need it.

One of the ways they can encourage resilient digital services is through legislation. For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) – the country’s central bank – requires digital banking to resolve any issues within four hours of a disruption. Additionally, any unscheduled downtime that exceeds four hours in a 12-month period is subject to monitoring measures, said Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Chief Minister and Minister in charge of MAS in parliament.

Shanmugaratnam said the MAS “takes seriously” all IT incidents that affect the availability of digital banking services.

Finally, there are growing concerns that the technology is associated with cheating and mischief, fueled by an increase in scams and the spread of misinformation. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has triggered a spike in ransomware incidents, scams and phishing activity, according to the Singapore Cybersecurity Agency.

Indonesia’s West Java Province has taken a proactive approach to combating disinformation by creating a single source of verified truth for all government information. He has created an app called Sapawarga, through which people can find the latest updates and information on public services in the province, said Dyana Chusnulitta Jatnika, Tribe Manager of Citizen Engagement and Services at Jabar Digital Services.

Security is another key consideration for governments when going digital, as pointed out by Leonard Tan, regional sales manager for low-code application management platform OutSystems. Building trust means giving people peace of mind that their data isn’t leaking, Tan said.

Digitization offers enormous potential for governments to interact more effectively with citizens and thus create more personalized services. But such initiatives must be rooted in the understanding that no one is left behind and that the citizen-government relationship is not plagued by a perpetual mistrust of technology.

To view these panels or other panels at the Festival de l’Innovation, Register here.

Ashley C. Reynolds