EconomyEditor's PickDigital government: Creating real connections

January 22, 2023

(First of two parts)

As people increasingly look to the government to defend their lives and means of subsistence during times of crises, most recently under the pandemic, public policy and the provision of services are now under unprecedented pressure. There is widespread demand among citizens for more digitally enabled public services, and many of them want more control over how these services are provided. However, a sizable portion of the populace lacks the ability or resources to use digital services.

To better understand how people’s lives are changing in the connected world, EY launched a new research study with over 12,000 working-age respondents called Connected Citizens. This global study looked at what these respondents value, their top concerns, and how they feel about the impact of technology. The study then aimed to examine their expectations of the function of the government, the provision of public services, and the nature of the interaction between those in power and those under it.

TECHNOLOGY IN A MORE PERVASIVE ROLEThe increased use of technology in daily life has been one of the most noticeable changes catalyzed by the pandemic. It changed how people work, play, shop, study, and socialize in mere months. According to the study, a majority anticipate using technology even more in the future than they would have otherwise. As much as 64% of the respondents anticipate that the pandemic will result in an increase in the use of technology.

Although governments worldwide have sped up the process of digitalizing many public services, many still fall behind private sector offerings like online banking and shopping in terms of anticipated gains in service delivery (although healthcare services are viewed more positively). Over half of the people globally (53%) believe that governments and public services have used digital technology to successfully combat the pandemic. This shows that governments still need to make progress in their digital transformation before they can live up to the expectations of the citizens they serve.

We are seeing similar trends in the Philippines, where the government is increasingly focused on implementing and sustaining digital transformation strategies to bring about a true e-government that would strengthen connections with citizens by using digital and technology to achieve economic transformation and more efficient delivery of services to citizens. However, both government and stakeholders alike need to understand the deeper issues around technology in order to truly make the most of it.

BROADER CONCERNS REGARDING TECHNOLOGY IMPACTDespite the prevalence of technology, the study found complex attitudes towards it. Most respondents (72%) believe it improves life and will be necessary in the future to help address ever-more complicated challenges. However, there are concerns about its broader effects.

Growing socioeconomic inequality.

The most disadvantaged people frequently lack the resources to access new technology and the digital literacy skills necessary to use it. Another issue is the use of algorithms for decision-making, which some believe may be biased. Nearly a third of people worldwide (32%) believe that not all segments of society will equally benefit from technology. And 34% believe that people who are already wealthy and powerful gain more influence as a result of technology.

Diminished human interaction.

Concerns have been raised about how using communication technology can affect social cohesion, with 32% believing that technology will cause people to feel less connected to their community. Some of the most vulnerable groups may experience increased isolation in a more virtualized society where there is less physical interaction.

Digital security and personal privacy.

The quantity and variety of data produced and the rate at which it is gathered will grow as more people and devices are linked. This creates public anxiety over personal privacy and a lack of choice over how data is used. More than 4 out of 10 people oppose the sharing of data with both the government and the business sector, while 72% oppose government selling their personal information to the private sector.

Additionally, governments can do more to explain the advantages of data sharing and reassure the public that it will be used responsibly. The study reveals some support for data use when people are aware of the use case, and if it presents advantages for them personally or for society as a whole. This is especially true when it comes to matters of public health. For instance, 52% of people worldwide favor utilizing personal data to track and prevent disease, while 47% support using it to set priorities for healthcare.

Building trust in government institutions will be crucial in increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of government operations as well as utilizing public efforts to help design and provide better services. The study shows that citizens are willing to participate more in the delivery of public services in the future, with more than a third identifying more performance transparency as one of their top priorities to improve public service quality. Additionally, 42% said they would like to have a greater say in how public services are delivered in their community.

THE SEVEN CITIZEN PERSONASWith the study showing how complicated global citizen beliefs, values, needs, and behaviors are, understanding these identities can assist governments in forging more reliable ties with their constituents. It identified seven different citizen personas through survey data analysis: Diligent Strivers, Capable Achievers, Privacy Defenders, Aspirational Technophiles, Tech Skeptics, Struggling Providers, and Passive Outsiders.

Diligent Strivers are young proactive self-improvers keen to advance in life. They expect seamless digital government services to help them achieve their aims, are comfortable sharing their data with governments, and strongly believe in equal opportunities.

Capable Achievers have an older age profile and are independent, successful and satisfied with their life. Pragmatic technophiles who embrace digital innovation, they trust governments to use their data appropriately but worry about it getting into the wrong hands.

Privacy Defenders tend to be older, independent and comfortably off. They value technology and the benefits it provides them, but are extremely cautious when it comes to sharing their personal data with governments or private companies.

Aspirational Technophiles are younger, well-educated city-dwellers. Motivated by success and new opportunities, they incorporate technology and data into every facet of their lives. They are excited by the potential for new digital innovations to empower people and improve society.

 Tech Skeptics are older, on lower incomes and relatively dissatisfied with their lives. Distrustful of governments and skeptical about the benefits of technology, they tend to be opposed to data sharing, even with a clear purpose.

Struggling Providers are younger and tend to be in low paying, less secure work. They are above-average users of welfare services and are ambivalent toward technology, lacking the access and skills for it to significantly impact their lives.

 Passive Outsiders have lower levels of income and education. Detached from the connected world around them and generally reluctant to embrace change, they are relatively ambivalent on data sharing but tend to feel the risks outweigh the benefits.

 The attitudes each persona has toward technology and their level of access and comfort with digital services are significant. Despite being representative of the online population, the survey participants vary in their comfort level while utilizing new technologies on their own. This indicates that governments should shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach towards service delivery and increase the level of personalization to improve public policy design, deliver more efficient and effective public services, and deepen the relationship between government and citizens.

For instance, Struggling Providers, who would require the most assistance, would likely be unable to utilize services and miss opportunities if some services can only be accessed through digital channels. This leads to a worsening of the structural inequality they already experience.

We have seen this ourselves during the pandemic particularly in the education sector where students were given the option to participate in online classes, yet a significant percentage did not have access to devices or the internet and had to resort to analog options such as printed learning modules.

 In the second part of this article, we discuss four key areas government can focus on to better engage with the public: inclusive digitization, responsible data use, innovative and agile policymaking, and public participation and engagement.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Marie Stephanie C. Tan-Hamed is a strategy and transactions partner, EY Parthenon partner and PH Government and Public Sector leader of SGV & Co.

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