By: Beatriz Cano Buchholz, Senior Associate & Shaheen Warren, Programme Manager, Centre for Public Impact
At the start of 2020, very few of us would have predicted that the driving force behind the overwhelming digitisation of government services was going to be a global health pandemic. As some of us know too well, many government teams across the world have been striving to move their services online and employ new technologies to meet the increasing demands of citizens for digital services that are smooth, efficient, user friendly and impactful to help complete the more mundane tasks of life.
In part, governments who have fared less well during the pandemic are those relying heavily on paper -based systems and face-to-face meetings within government agency offices. Through CPI’s work with local governments across Europe, we have seen that those who have long invested in digitising their systems endured less disruption, and those that have not are discovering how useful it would be if a lot more official business took place online. Certainly the political support needed to drive digital transformation across city halls in Europe is now stronger than ever.
But as our recent study of innovative responses to the crisis has shown – it’s not enough for services to be hastily moved online. There are numerous examples we can cite of where digital transformation has missed the mark – from the mistakes of big tech giants, to the blunders of government efforts to have technology make the big decisions and implement new systems without proper thought for inclusivity in design. The governments who are at the forefront of the unprecedented wave of innovation we are seeing in cities across Europe are those that have taken a values-led approach to their crisis response.
Mindful innovation: A values-led approach to digital service delivery
Given the impetus for digital services during the crisis, we have seen what happens when the pace of digital transformation is not balanced with thoughtful design. Sometimes this can result in clunky services that do not meet the citizen need, or replication of paper-based services online that lead to equally long waiting times for services to be delivered. On the more sinister end of digital delivery, we have seen the negative impact of poor design and implementation of technological solutions which have failed to be inclusive, deliver impactful services and collaborate with wider communities.
Through our partnership with the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, CPI has scanned Europe for examples of where technology has been leveraged in a way that puts humans first, with solutions designed to meet citizens needs and lead with inclusivity, humility and collaboration as core values in their work. Some shining examples of this values-led approach can be found in initiatives implemented by Paris, Barcelona and in cities across Eastern and Northern Europe.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the city of Paris moved quickly to communicate accurate public health information, counter false opinions, and connect with its most vulnerable citizens in an innovative and inclusive way. Its inclusive communications approach emphasised the use of open data and hyper-local public health campaigns with messages tailored specifically for marginalised communities.
Meanwhile, in Barcelona, public participation and dialogue has been critical to the crisis response for citizens. The city has promoted a two-way dialogue with residents, utilising social media and other channels to provide targeted support and receive timely feedback on critical community issues.
Collaboration has been the key for cities across Eastern and Northern Europe, where the “Hack the Crisis” movement has led to a range of cutting-edge solutions to urgent, important community issues – fostering collaboration with startups, charities and changemakers.
Putting the human before the robot
In the months to come, and as we deal with the impact of COVID-19 on our cities and look to build recovery strategies, there are several key lessons that digital leaders can learn from those at the forefront of this values-led movement:
- Be citizen-centred: Citizens are your most important stakeholders. Design your pandemic response, policy and initiatives by engaging directly with them and seeking their feedback.
- Adopt an innovation culture: Innovation – and the capacity to adapt – is what helped cities support their residents during COVID-19. Cities must dare to try, not be bound by a crippling fear of failure.
- Be visible and inclusive: Inclusivity means considering everything and everyone in your city – this plays a key role in an effective COVID-19 response. By taking into account different cultures, languages, religions, accessibility requirements and more, you can lead and challenge your team to create a positive impact for all your fellow-citizens.
- Be collaborative: Collaboration enables you to work towards a common goal and join forces in identifying and implementing solutions to the pandemic – both within government services and across the city’s stakeholders.
- Rebuild a more sustainable city: This unprecedented situation offers cities the chance to think about a new vision for the future – promote local engagement and job creation and lay the foundations for economic growth, together with social, cultural and political stability.
We believe that leading innovation efforts with these principles in mind will lead us to more prosperous cities that rebuild themselves back better. We often refer to the new normal that will soon take shape in our lives. From what we have observed throughout Europe, examples of more inclusive and sustainably led development has given us hope that the “new normal” will inform how we implement ideas in the future.
The COVID-19 crisis has shifted our world and the way we consume government services by 180 degrees. Governments all over the world are working tirelessly and diligently to adapt. So, what next for government digital transformation? What can we do about these challenges once the crisis is over?
It is understandable (and indeed acceptable!) that governments find ways to be agile in crisis, but it will be necessary to re-examine services holistically when the peak of the crisis passes and ask ourselves, honestly and directly: are these solutions good enough? And if not, to modify or transform them again. It is also an opportunity to look at the temporary patches as experiments: if things worked better with the patch, don’t give it up so fast — make sure it becomes permanent. For example, what would it mean to ensure that all digital services are designed with citizens at the heart? How will this change the way we work?
Areas that have not received adequate attention in crisis can be revisited, with the lessons learned from crisis to inform better digital delivery for all. It will be necessary to relook at and possibly even redesign aspects of Regulation, Organisational Process, Technological Systems and User Journeys to make sure our digital services are fit for purpose and accessible by all. Ensuring all the incredible hard work doesn’t go to waste, we must remember these are just the first steps needed for a real, holistic and effective digital transformation and understanding what values should lead the process of designing digital services can be a helpful tool to rebuilding back better.About this Content