Why digital inclusion starts with a focus on citizen first service design

We caught up with Richard Walker, Partner for Data and Insights at Agilisys, to find out why he believes public sector leaders need to put citizens and outcomes first if organisations are to drive ease of use of digital services and enhance digital inclusion.

When it comes to public sector technology, what are the real challenges and issues in developing citizen-centric applications that leaders must be aware of?

One of the overlooked, yet critical challenges for organisations looking to take a genuinely citizen-centric approach is data sharing between different agencies. Regardless of the organisation that delivers services, the intractable truth is that we’re all going to need to be able to see the data that we hold on that individual.

If you take domestic violence for example, there’ll be things that A&E know, things that the police know and things the local authority will know, not to mention the third sector. Typically, what happens at the moment, for a number of real and perceived reasons, is that we don’t share that information anywhere close to the extent that we should in order to be able to take the preventative measures that should be at the heart of more effective public service delivery.

We need to be more strategic about joining up multiple sources of data.

I don’t think GDPR helped the way it should have. The tone around fines and penalties for data misuse obscured the ability to think of it as an enabler and the mechanism through which you can share information safely and lawfully – if you’ve thought about all the things that it asked you to think about.

What does best practice look like when it comes to technology designed with the citizen in mind and for best practice for citizen-centricity?

Being outcomes focused requires you to take a different view of technology. You need to think about how technology will help effectively optimise the value chain. For example, a machine learning model might help you predict the impact of a particular intervention. That’s absolutely fine, but it’s only based on what you already collect. It might be that we also need to consider the Internet of Things (IoT), for example, to gather more data that will enable more effective decision making.

Only when you take the value chain from almost raw data all the way down to the impact it will have on the individual will you use technology effectively to drive improvements to outcomes.

This is a real change of philosophy for the public sector, yet it is the panacea they should be aiming for.

Does inclusive technology dumb down the latest innovations or cutting-edge apps exclude older people? For instance, mobile phone apps for the elderly don’t really work. How do you get that balance?

Digital inclusion starts with the outcomes. Public sector organisations shouldn’t be building technologies that they think are the right services. It’s about engaging with the end-user and designing services with their needs firmly in mind. My 92-year-old grandmother can work a smartphone and WhatsApp the family because it’s designed for simplicity. If technology is done well it can be more inclusive, not less.

How is digital transformation enabling citizens to do things more quickly and efficiently? Such as set up businesses easily. Are there some good examples out there?

One of the ways we’re seeing this is through the removal of paper from the system. Previously lengthy forms would take ages to fill in and return, or you needed to take time off work to visit the relevant council building or post office. No matter how effectively paper was moved around a system, it was still a time-consuming process for everyone involved, including the citizen. By digitising processes and utilising automation we can make fundamental changes, especially if the process is designed around outcomes first.

One of the most appropriate phrases that I’ve heard in my time working with the public sector is, ‘paper is the enemy of insight’. Through digitalisation, you should have better access to the information required to make services more citizen-centric and therefore boost digital inclusion.

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