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Governments should put the citizen journey first in public services

A young woman showing an elderly gentleman how to use a smartphone

The government is becoming increasingly pressured to embrace and adopt digital transformation to meet the expected quality of service the public now expects. In the same way marketers are supposed to focus on their customer’s journey and appeal to their needs at given touchpoints, governments are expected to design their services around the citizen journey.

Wait, what exactly is a citizen journey?

The citizen is the ‘user’ of the services. When a citizen interacts with the government they take a journey. It’s triggered by the citizen needing something. They might need to do a whole range of things from booking a bulky item collection to requesting a replacement passport or registering to vote. They will have a journey of interaction from start to completion.

How much of the citizen journey is digitalised?

The Government Digital Service (GDS) set a goal of becoming ‘digital by default’ and it’s certainly made steps to get there. Formed in 2011, this cross-government strategy has brought public services online via a single website. Gov.uk. The site offers nearly 780 services and undergoes around a billion transactions a year. This effort has been echoed in Asia, the Americas and Denmark.

What must be remembered is the sheer volume of citizen journeys that take place and need to be digitised. Some need to remain physical for accessibility and simply work as face-to-face services. There are no digital replacements for every service. Some, on the other hand, simply haven’t gone through digital transformation yet. Making services digital-by-default is costly in money and time.

What are the challenges in making citizen journeys digital by default?

Digital transformation is complex. There is an undeniable appetite for making citizen journey digital by default, but this isn’t possible without challenge.

Firstly, consider legacy systems and volume. The government has such an array of services that were created in an analogue era. Detaching these services from their legacy systems, designing a new digital version, then delivering is incredibly costly and time-consuming.

Secondly, government services themselves are complex. Citizen journeys often need authentication to prove a person is who they’re claiming to be. This involves a lot of back end work and could involve multiple departments. Risk is high so a lot of care is needed. You can’t rush that.

Finally, you need the expertise to achieve a digital-by-default service. User research, UX and content design are not often things done by government departments themselves.

Citizens’ needs are evolving

There’s an undeniable demand for further digitisation of public sector services. People (/users/citizens) are accustomed to doing everything online, from clothes shopping to ordering food. The private sector has carved the path for this and expectations are high. The government wants to meet those; it wants its services to be as easy as ordering an Uber. This demand is only going to rise so there’s a digital transformation pace to be met.

Digital itself isn’t new. It evolves. It changes what people expect. Changes to data privacy demands have created a desire to both be remembered and forgotten. People hate having to reenter all their information on a site or service they’ve used once before. Citizens expect after giving their data to one department to be remembered elsewhere. Equally, GDPR has given them power over their data. It’s an ongoing struggle (particularly for marketers).

For the overwhelming demand for digital transformation, it’s easy to forget that citizens are diverse. There is varying level of digital access and skills. More vulnerable people rely on government services and they may have no access to the internet or no experience using it (largely, the elderly). Some may even refuse to engage with a digital service. It’s really key the government doesn’t abandon those people who opt out of digital.

What are the benefits to the government going ‘digital by default’?

The behemoth investment by the government into digital transformation is justified by the benefits. This is mostly around cost-saving in the longer-term, better data security and improvements to efficiency. We wrote about that a little more in this blog.

Ultimately, a government who’s costs are controlled but services are efficient makes for a happy public who can enjoy better services.

What does the future look like?

We’ll see more services going online and digital journeys will dominate. COVID has shown us, for example, that the NHS can undergo a lot of appointments over the phone, which can be booked and managed online. We can expect to see more of these changes.

We’ll see a streamlining of different departments meeting under one roof like we mentioned in the GOV.UK example of 780 odd services now being available on one site. This removes the old feeling of being passed from pillar to post when trying to get something done. Needs can be met in one place. Experiences are improved.

Finally, emerging technologies will have to be used. AI will significantly change how our government provides services and how we interact with them. That’s a whole other post for another time, though.

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We’re actively working with the public sector to make the distribution and installation of Drupal 9 easier for UK Councils. We host a number of public sector websites and we’d love to help you.

If you’re from the public sector, talk to us.

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Code Enigma is a community of creative souls and the technically brilliant, dedicated to building a better world wide web.

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Maygen Jacques

Maygen Jacques

Marketing Manager for web design, development and hosting agency, @CodeEnigma. Hold my drink, I’ll be right back…

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