By the end of 2020, it was a common sight on social media to see people expressing sentiments of relief. What a rollercoaster the year had been thanks to the pandemic, global political and economic unrest and of course, the January bushfires. The tide seemed to be turning in Australia however, lockdowns were being lifted and some semblance of normality was returning. We weren’t to know then, of course, that 2021 would bring Delta and Omicron.
In June and October of 2020 we surveyed Australian citizens to gauge how confident they were in government institutions and their digital services. Results showed that the number of Australians accessing government services virtually had increased during the pandemic’s first year. At the time, we reflected that there was a resultant opportunity to become digital-first with a whole-of-government approach to digital transformation and customer-centric, human digital experiences.
Having gotten to the end of 2021 with a feeling of groundhog day and trepidation over what 2022 might bring, we’ve checked in with Australians once more to find out how citizen engagement is going. The results, as highlighted in the Citizen Survey 2022 report, are mixed; citizens want to engage with governments and highly value useful feedback, but experiences are not meeting their expectations, causing trust to dip. While digital investments are paying off and having a positive impact, there is more work to be done.
A step in the right direction…
Citizens, as consumers, have high expectations when it comes to responsiveness. They want requests solved in one go, speed, simplicity, transparency and security. This includes when interactions are digital.
The use of digital government services has increased over the last year, particularly in metropolitan NSW and Victoria, where around 45 percent of respondents reported an increase in channel use. The good news is that the investments governments have been making in digital services and processes is having a positive impact. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said that their experience using online government services has positively impacted their trust in government institutions.
The experiences people have had around COVIDSafe check-ins and COVID-19 vaccination certificates have played a part, positively impacting the perception of government services. These experiences have led to 43 percent of those surveyed saying that digital services made them feel more connected in a time when they were isolated due to the pandemic. This finding is echoed in what people say they want from governments: to be actively involved. Whether via feedback, information access, being kept in the loop, or active input into government service development, citizens want a say.
The key point to note? Those surveyed who said they had given feedback to government services in the last 12 months report a significantly higher overall trust in government institutions.
… but still a distance to go
Despite the progress, there are areas where government digital experiences need some more work.
Regional disconnect – In regional areas, the uptake of digital channels is slower. Only 34 percent reported an increase in use compared to 43 percent in metropolitan areas. Additionally, only 14 percent of regional respondents said that their digital experiences were better compared to pre-COVID conditions, compared to 23 percent of metro residents. As a result, fewer regional citizens say they feel connected or are more trusting in government. A tailored approach to regions is needed to address these challenges and aid alternative support models.
Data security – Flagged in last year’s report, the security of data remains an issue, with only 38 percent saying they are comfortable sharing their data online versus in person. Citizen use of digital services is often predicated on feeling their data is safe. Eighty percent of citizens surveyed said that they expect government to store and use their data ethically and securely (90 percent for those with high trust). Governments need to do more in the way of communicating how citizen data is protected to reduce misinformation and alleviate uncertainty.
Channel overwhelm – While digital channels are good, too many can tip the scales the wrong way. Nearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed said that the increased range of channels meant accessing government services was confusing. The average interaction requires more than one channel to complete. For governments then, services should be integrated where possible to leverage existing platforms and avoid duplication. Brands, channels, information, messaging and sources of truth should be assessed for consolidation, and legacy options removed if their experience is subpar.
Ease of use – Another key message that came out of the survey responses was that some citizens (37 percent) are having a hard time navigating these new digital channels. Only 44 percent feel they can find help if they encounter a problem using a digital service. This is especially true for certain demographics, such as those who are older or self-employed. This is not a trivial matter – those who find services easy to use demonstrate significantly higher levels of trust in government.
The silver lining
While there are significant challenges to address when it comes to geographic localities, demographics and skill-level, the results of this year’s survey very strongly indicate the areas that government should focus on to sustain and grow trust and engagement. Government trust – which builds a stronger mandate to affect change – can be positively impacted by good experiences.
Putting citizens at the centre of digital delivery, and designing services that fit people’s lives and skill-levels, will increase engagement. Furthermore, ensuring that everyone is included in such services should be a priority, and design methodologies that promote inclusiveness and accessibility used to build products and services. Finally, while the digital path government is on is the right one, there needs to be an eye kept on ensuring that old services make way for newer, better ones, and that as channels and services proliferate they are being implemented intelligently, consolidated where it makes sense.
Citizens have made it clear, they want a government that they can be actively involved with. If that engagement is seamless, easy and secure? The trust will follow.