On 9 June 2016, Gartner released its “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for Government in 2016” (https://www.gartner.com/doc/3342817?ref=AnalystProfile&srcId=1-4554397745), in which “Multi-channel Citizen Engagement” ranked #2. Gartner identified six priorities for delivering an effective citizen experience:
1. Using data to capture and understand the needs and desires of the citizen;
2. Leveraging effective social media and communications to actively engage citizens;
3. Allowing the citizen to engage on his or her own terms;
4. Understanding the citizen’s preferred engagement channels;
5. Affording seamless transitions among channels; and
6. Ultimately delivering a more satisfying set of citizen interactions.
Whether referred to as “Multi-channel Citizen Engagement” or the more contemporary “Omni-channel Citizen Engagement”, it is unfortunate that the “channel” comes first in this naming convention, since what is most important is actually the “citizen engagement” aspect.
Government service efficiency measures have a way of focussing our attention on directing citizen engagement to online self-service channels where the cost of service delivery can be reduced by an order of magnitude per transaction. But getting citizens engaged and keeping them engaged – regardless of channel – is essential in delivering effective Social Protection outcomes including work participation and early intervention. The key to delivering citizen services that are both effective and efficient must therefore be to understand what gets citizens engaged and what keeps them engaged, and to offer this experience in the most cost effective service delivery channels.
So let’s take a look at five factors that would encourage citizen engagement, and let’s do it from the perspective of a citizen in need…
1. Make it easy for me: I need to be able to access Government services at any time, no matter where I am or what device I might be using. I should be able to find the information I need quickly and it should be presented in a way that is easy for me to understand. I should receive an equivalent level of service if I’m using an adaptive device or connecting over a slow network.
This first factor is all about encouraging citizen engagement via any channel, and providing consistency and continuity across all channels. Now let’s look at what might encourage a person to engage via a particular channel…
2. Interact with me like a person: I need the Government to understand my needs as a whole person – not just on the basis of a single claim. Through various interactions, the Government has collected a heap of information about my circumstances and changes over time, so I should not have to tell my whole life story again. The Government also has information about my family and my household that is most likely relevant to understanding my situation. I’ve also had various dealings with 3rd party service providers and non-Government organisations that could be important. I will naturally gravitate towards the channel that brings together all of this information in one place.
3. Respond to my life events: The changes-in-circumstance the Government wants me to report are actually caused by life events. So yes, my address changed, but the reason it changed is because my husband lost his job, started drinking again and made it impossible for me and my kids to stay at home. We’ve moved back in with my parents, so my household expenses are less but my needs are actually more, and it’s critical that the Government appreciates this and responds appropriately. This is why I will actively seek out the channel that enables me to discuss life events, not just report changes-in-circumstance.
4. Help me to understand: Sometimes the way Government works and the way it makes decisions is confusing for me. I actually want to know less about how Government works and more about why it has made a particular decision. This would help me to access my entitlements, understand why I am ineligible to receive certain services, and to avoid doing things that make me non-compliant or that result in a debt. The channel that is most valuable to me is one that makes Government decisions transparent and at the same time reduces the amount of time I have to spend learning about the inner workings of Government.
5. Give me control of my information: Who has access to my information and the right to act on my behalf is of the utmost importance to me and this can change over time. In particular situations, like in cases of domestic violence, I need to have confidence that certain information is being shared only with the people and organisations that I nominated, only for the purposes for which I gave consent and only during the time periods that I specified. When things change, I want to be able to quickly and easily update my preferences and feel secure in the knowledge that even those who I now trust will never have access to certain information. I will engage via the channel that gives me the greatest control over my information, and the greatest confidence that my right to privacy will be respected.
Doubtless there are many other factors that would encourage citizen engagement, and there are certainly many techniques for delivering efficient and effective outcomes across channels. But my objective in presenting this outside-in perspective is to focus our attention first and foremost on the “citizen engagement” aspect when we consider approaches and solutions to delivering “Multi-channel Citizen Engagement”.