We are living in rough and critical times. We are going simultaneously through a digital revolution, a climate change emergency, and a pandemic. We are facing the most turbulent times in 100 years.

COVID-19 impacted the world in ways no one could have predicted. Disruption is the hallmark of 2020. Governments are facing huge challenges to adapt to new demands, and they are struggling a lot.

Public services are usually developed to meet the administration’s interest, and this approach is not working anymore. The distance between the citizens’ needs and public service delivery is getting larger every day: the demands are changing rapidly, but the government processes are pretty fixed. Public authorities can no longer govern “as usual.”. Addressing this issue is urgent right now.

One of the critical areas is redefining how public services are produced to ensure we deliver excellent citizen-centric solutions that really fulfill the users’ expectations, not just the Government’s interests.

One of the Governments’ goals should be to provide a user experience similar to the best ones in the private sector, like Amazon: easy, simple, customized, proactive, and with a cross-cutting view of you the status of your orders between thousands of suppliers.

In this presentation, I will show some good examples worldwide that are moving forward to customized and proactive public services.

Do Governments design e-Services for Lisa or Homer?

To start with, let me ask you, “Do Governments design e-Services for users like Lisa or Homer Simpson?”

I suppose all of you remember The Simpsons, the famous TV series, and the Homer and Lisa characters:

  • Lisa is a brilliant eight-year-old girl. She is passionate about changing the world and advocates for political causes; she understands how Government works and is an expert in computers.
  • On the other hand, Homer embodies many American working-class stereotypes: he is obese, immature, outspoken, lazy, addicted to beer, junk food, and watching television. He knows nothing about how Government works and accessing services online.

One of the significant issues is that Governments design services for people like Lisa, who are experts in procedures and technology. But the reality is that online public services are used by ordinary citizens who are (and I do not want to be disrespectful) somehow quite like Homer.

Governments (in general) invest very little in understanding user’s needs, in user experience, in co-design and co-creation methodologies, and comprehensive language for users like Homer. And it is urgent we change it.

A new generation of Digital Native users

Moreover, there is a new generation of users. They are digital natives. They have lived all their life with the Internet and a mobile phone. They are now around 20 years old, and soon they will start to use public services on their own.

They are used:

  • To Access any information or transaction from the mobile phone
  • To Get 24×7 services
  • With an outstanding quality
  • Which are a very easy to use with a fantastic usability
  • From their mobile phone
    • they enjoy the cross-cutting view of all their interests: social networks, bank transactions, shopping, etc.
    • And the get customized services and proactive notifications according to their personal situation

What do you think this generation will feel when they access online governmental services with an experience which is very far away from Instagram or Amazon?

Why is it so hard to transform Governments?

Of course, current public services do not fulfill the expectations of the new generation of digital-native users. Governments are struggling a lot to adapt because they are:

  • Not Led by purpose
    • they are led by procedures and political short-termism
  • They are Not Citizen centric
    • They do not empathize with citizens, and they do not comprehend their issues
    • They are just government centric
  • They are Not Attractive to talent
    • The most talented do not want to waste their time in a lengthy bureaucratic recruiting process with a low initial salary, no career plan, and low chances of promotion even if they do a fantastic job.
  • They are Not managed by executives
    • In Spain, many executive positions are still appointed by the elected officials
  • They are Nor Agile, nor Open to experiment
    • The government foundations are based on procedures, bureaucracy, and controls to deliver good but steady and fixed services along time.
    • Therefore, governments (generally) are not designed to be flexible, not agile, not open to experiment, and innovate.

But only the organizations prepared to pivot and adapt will be ready to manage all types of disruptions.

A Citizen-Centric Government is possible, but to be honest, it is tough

Unfortunately, in this area there are too many promises, excessive marketing announcements, and far too much smoke and mirrors. The underlying truth is that there very few realities that are providing real public value to the citizens.

But there are exceptions. They are public authorities that are trying hard to break all these barriers. Agencies that are using innovative approaches (like design thinking techniques and lean start-up method) to wear the citizens’ shoes and understand their demands.

As I mentioned above, there are many pitfalls. However, they take advantage of one great strength we primarily have in Government: we have some highly motivated civil servants to make a better society.

During this pandemic we have seen many of them.

I am going to present some of the best practices and initiatives about user-centric services that make better citizens’ life through cross-government, Proactive and customized services

All of them are thriving and in-production (life) citizen-centric services. I have been directly involved in some of them. Others are well-renowned case studies by the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

MyGov cross-Gov view (Catalonia)

In Catalonia, we have developed MyGov, a responsive website where citizens can have a cross-government view (including Federal, State, and Local levels) of their applications and procedures. Currently, it integrates the information about 1.100 public authorities.

After the authentication process, citizens can see:

  • A dashboard with their latest transactions
  • A list of their activities with a cross-government view
  • They can review their submitted applications, or the notifications received
  • They can check who in the Government had access to their personal data, what particular data, for which purpose, on what date, and the file number.
  • And they can see when they have accessed a government website and what electronic ID they used. They can easily and rapidly file a claim in case of identity theft.

We believe that MyGov is a solution that builds trust and empowers citizens to control their personal data.

Dubai Now APP

Dubai Now APP is another excellent example of providing a cross-government view of citizens’ interactions and transactions. It has access to 120 services, mainly from government. Bear in mind that in Dubai the Government provides many services that are managed by the private sector in other countries.

It provides an impressive one-stop-shop experience from an APP.

Kol-Zchut

Kol-Zchut means “all rights” in Hebrew. It is the so-called ‘Wikipedia’ of Israeli Social Rights. And it is an NGO initiative with the support of the Government.

They try to solve the following issues:

  • People are not aware of their rights
  • The information and procedures is dispersed in many websites
  • Even if you find the information, it isn’t straightforward to know what to do.
    • The language is bureaucratic and not understandable by many citizens
  • And the claiming process is complex, and many people do not manage to finish it

The final result used to be a very low take-up, especially among the ones with the most needs.

  • Low benefits take-up is common in all OECD countries and, in many cases, reaches 60% of non-take-up!

The All Rights initiative decided to tackle the challenge by building a collaborative, Wikipedia-like website where you can easily find all the social benefits you are entitled to. They work in cooperation with experts on rights from associations, public bodies, and academic institutions. The results are excellent so far.

MyBenefits (New York State)

MyBenefits from the New York State is similar to the Kol-Zchut example. But in this case, it is a public initiative.

It also has an excellent benefit database and search engine.

Moreover, it is possible to submit forms and apply for services and register to follow-up the procedures’ status.

MyGov Social (Catalonia)

In Catalonia, we have developed MyGov Social. With this solution, citizens can easily specify their personal conditions, and they get the main social benefits they are entitled to from Federal, State, and Local governments.

In the next phase, citizens will be able to subscribe to MyGov Social. They will get proactive alerts about the dates for application, new social benefits, and other related general information.

Tax relief automatically granted

Tax reductions, deductions, and reliefs are a great area for proactive and customized services. There are many good examples of automatically granting tax relief in several countries: the UK, USA, Singapore, Spain, etcetera.

For example, in Catalonia, we have a house property tax relief for large families. Local governments can check with federal databases the list of families entitled to this benefit. They get the tax relief with no need to fill any form or provide any information.

1 Click Apply: School Lunch Benefit (Catalonia)

School lunch benefits are one of the essential aids for kids. Every year, local governments of Catalonia manage more than 100.000 applications. It is a long-form application, with a lot of information to fill, attach, and get verified by the public authorities. And families have to submit the form every year.

In some towns of Catalonia (Terrassa and St. Cugat del Valles), they have developed a smart, straightforward process for citizens.

They prefill the application for all the families that applied for the benefit the previous year. They send an SMS and an email to these families with a link to the prefilled application.

Parents authenticate easily using a Mobile identification solution. Then, they can review the application from their mobile phone: this is very important because mobile phones are a critical digital inclusion factor. Most of citizens with social demands do not have a PC or a broadband connection from home.

From their mobile, they accept the prefilled form with one click, if their personal situation has not changed since last year. If there is any change, they can easily modify the prefilled form.

The city hall reviews all the applications and checks with local, state, and federal databases that the applications’ data is correct.

It has been a great success: they have managed to grant about 50% of the school lunch benefits with a One-click apply. Citizens are enthusiastic about this service, and it has increased the take-up.

Making life easier for citizens means that we make the Government tasks much more complicated: it implies transforming processes, integrating data, changing ancient ways of doing things and also taking risks. It is demanding and challenging, but it is really worthwhile.

Live Singapore

Finally, I would like to talk about one of the world’s most groundbreaking governments: Singapore. They are developing a one-stop-shop app, integrating many different services around moments of life: they call it now “Life Singapore”.

Government services are dispersed between multiple agencies, each doing very different things. When businesses and citizens come to the Government with their needs, they usually do not know who to approach and where to solve their problems.

The Life Singapore platform aims to allow seamless interaction among the Singapore government, businesses, and citizens. 

For instance, they have integrated several services related to the birth of a child. The app facilitates the following transactions: 

  • Registering a birth and applying for Baby Bonus in one form
  • Checking your child’s immunization and medical records
  • Finding a preschool
  • Getting advice on parenting

Creating fife events integrated services is not a new concept. We have been talking about it for 20 years. But there are very few successful experiences worldwide that have managed to break the government silos and provide an integrated and frictionless one-stop-shop.

Certainly, Singapore is the lighthouse of future digital government services.

 Conclusions

Let me do a final summary:

  • This crisis is an outstanding opportunity to redesign how Government works because the coronavirus pandemic is shaking, for good, many old-fashion ways of doing things and it is accelerating the decision processes. Moreover, we will have European funds for the digital transformation of the public sector.
  • We must take advantage of the situation.
    • To deliver excellent citizen-centric services
    • To foster the real digital transformation of public agencies
    • To encourage active collaboration between public and private companies
    • Or to Promote public innovation to overcome the new challenges of the future
  • I am a moderated optimist. I understand that the change is huge, but at the same time, I believe there is no alternative. So, hard as it may seem, we have to fight, work hard, to move forward in this direction.

Let’s hope we do it before the next crisis.