It has been the most challenging period of our lives. But if the difficult health and economic response to the coronavirus pandemic has brought a silver lining, it is that the forced agility of governments across Australia has changed the trust dynamic with citizens.
This has clear implications for the roll-out of government digital services, according to Adobe’s Principal Digital Strategist for the Asia-Pacific region John Mackenney.
Mr Mackenney says the generally well-managed response to the pandemic by state and federal governments has delivered higher levels of citizen trust in government and its institutions. That trust, generally, is built on the delivery of good services.
In the digital world, this is the important difference between the public and private sectors.
“Digital in the private sector is absolutely about delivering a great customer service or sales experience to really drive revenue and drive profitability,” Mr Mackenney told the InnovationAus’ Commercial Disco podcast
“When you think about the public sector though, it is about how do we use online channels to support people when they need access to government services. This may be in times of hardship or more generally at the times in people’s lives when they need to interact with government,” he said.
“It’s equally important but comes from a different direction.”
When it comes to the delivery of digital services, governments build not only goodwill with citizens through an excellent user experience, but also trust as well.
By creating digital platforms that tailor to the specific needs of different citizens, by understanding context in which that citizen is interacting with a service, then government can stretch to create services that deliver “digital empathy”.
This is not a straight-forward undertaking, obviously.
Mr Mackenney says digital empathy is really based around understanding what a citizens’ particular circumstances are, and then directing the relevant information and connecting the relevant services based on those circumstances.
Digital empathy is effectively about building systems and processes and service design on a foundation layer of understanding so that the citizen is not asked to jump through hoops – like entering personal information every time they deal with government.
These are stretch goals. But they are a lot more attainable today than they might have seemed this time last year.
“I look at this as potentially the ‘silver lining’ of our time. Government has been forced to be much more agile and has delivered in a matter of weeks products that would [in the past] have taken months”, Mr Mackenney said.
“This new agility in government and a changing trust dynamic with the citizen potentially gives us great alignment and path forward to better service delivery.”
He says this trust dynamic has certainly changed in terms of what people are willing to share with government in terms of data and what that might mean for the services that could be delivered in return. This will in turn influence the expectations of citizens.
“And so I think this is somewhat of a unique time in our history, and in our national conversation about where we go next in terms of digital,” Mr Mackenney said.
According to Adobe’s research, in the month of July the highest amount of internet traffic in history was directed to governments at various levels, with more than 190 million web visits. It is clear that the traffic was not driven solely by the health concerns of citizens seeking information about the coronavirus response.
That was only part of the traffic. The other part was made up of the people in hardship, seeking information or registering for JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
“These are people accessing the welfare system for the first time in their lives,” he said.
“This obviously creates a lot of hardship for people, but also creates a need for governments to be highly empathetic in the way that they respond digitally to these needs.
“Trust, like in all good relationships, takes work.” Building that trust is based on three things, he says.
Trust comes from great customer experience. It comes from better service delivery. And really great service delivery in government is about understanding what an individual citizen needs.
This does not have to be overly complex.
“If I am in a highly affected postcode in Melbourne at the moment, should I receive much deeper information [from a government service] about what I should be doing in terms of safety compared to someone who is sitting in western Queensland? Absolutely,” Mr Mackenney said.
Not all of that government understanding about a citizen is derived from some complex previously conducted transaction with a different department.
“It can be based on something as simple as geolocation. It is just about those signals and moving forward with them.”
Right now there are tremendous opportunities for the delivery of digital services in government. While there is a lot of investment going on in public sector digital, Mr Mackenney says the biggest challenge – and the biggest opportunity for governments – will be in reskilling the public service for the new digital delivery environment.
InnovationAus partnered with Adobe to present this series on digital empathy.