Digital technology offers the public sector unprecedented opportunities to shape services for citizens.
As citizens, public services belong to us all and access must be fair - decided on the basis of individuals’ needs, not status, wealth or connections. This principle of universal access underpins some wonderful British achievements such as a free healthcare service, welfare and tax systems.
However, the principle of universal access for citizens does not mean everybody must receive exactly the same service. It simply means there should be no discrimination by the public sector in assessing and meeting individual needs.
This is important because the delivery of a more citizen-centric government means the services offered to the public need to become increasingly more personal, tailored to the specific needs of the individual.
Historically, government has been slow to provide personalised services, fearful this concept somehow breaks the universal access principle. However, the launch of a new generation of digital services, now offers government the opportunity to accelerate its approach to tailoring services that meet an individuals’ personal needs.
The process of transforming public sector services has begun. The UK government already provides different service levels to those willing to embrace new approaches. For example, in persuading taxpayers to complete online self-assessments over paper form filling, HM Revenue & Customs offers an individual an extension for year-end tax submissions, as well as other benefits such as instant online confirmation and faster repayments. In encouraging citizens to provide full biometric passport data, the department for UK Visas and Immigration ensures automated iris-scanning gates offer a faster passage through border control. But, much more needs to be done – and the pace of change must accelerate.
Building services around citizens’ needs
Let’s reimagine personal services built around online portals which incentivise and encourage individuals to trust government and share information. New initiatives across the major departments to personalise government could produce huge productivity benefits for citizens and government alike. The sharing of this invaluable data could be a catalyst for more effective cross-government departmental collaboration.
This concept has emerged from the private sector, which has been on a steep learning curve ever since the emergence of digital technologies. The days of a one-size-fits-all, mass market approach are slowly evaporating and personalisation is taking centre stage. For example, Spotify, the digital music platform, offers a personalised service to its customers called “Just for you”. By tracking music accessed by subscribers, the platform has the ability to suggest new artists, playlists and albums to individuals based on their personal music tastes and preferred genres. Spotify has tapped into the benefits of delivering great customer experience and understands that the personal touch gives customers the feeling of being recognised.
The application of the basic principle of citizen-centric thinking in government is straightforward: the more government knows about an individual, the better it can serve them. And there’s no reason why the majority of government departments couldn’t deploy these tactics. All departments will benefit from powerful customer insight from the data produced when citizens sign up and register online. This information will prove invaluable as well as the ability to analyse that data, track it and record online behaviour. It could even allow for government to request additional information; all of which would help inform strategic and policy decision-making while easing operational delivery.
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