Nowadays technology is ubiquitous; whether it be communication, or buying and selling essentials in life, it’s in every nook and cranny of our lives. It has also become an important means to handle uncertainty disrupted by the unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19; telemedicine has been implemented to curb spikes of patients while students and office workers have also resorted to Zoom for online classes and meetings.
This means that technology has not only become an extension for convenience, but also an indispensable piece of our society. With this trend, how should the government adapt to the changing trend and make use of technology and the digital world to the advantage of public policy?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has suggested a framework to determine major key factors in designing the public sector including its policy towards digital maturity in order to respond to the people’s needs timely. This policy instrument has emphasised six key determinants as follows:
Digital by design
The government should incorporate technology in every step of policy making as well as when collaborating with stakeholders. Meanwhile, it should equip civil servants with skill sets and enthusiasm to improve their digital skills. One of the options and opportunities is to attract IT specialists to develop both systems and skills.
The most important aspect is to implement an “omnichannel approach” where citizens can access public services in various channels while all information from each channel is linked. For instance, citizens can access COVID-19 vaccination records via both an application and a website. This record is also linked with the hospital’s database so that patients will not need to show the record again.
The government should rely on data to design any policy as well as foresee change and uncertainty. Data will also be used when informing citizens about policy implementation and evaluating its execution. In Australia, the Department of Health has used data from hospitals to predict a number of in-patients, their needs, a number of incoming emergency patients, etc.
Government as platforms
The government should create an ecosystem to facilitate each sector and stakeholders in adopting technology including building a ground for “marketplace” of public services that citizens can easily access. This aspect also requires the government to rethink the relationship between state and citizens; citizens are not merely service receivers but collaborators in policymaking.
In Estonia, their government has successfully become a platform for digital transformation by, for instance, launching X-Road which shares secure data with over 900 organisations and enterprises. This helps facilitate every organisation, both public and private, to seamlessly connect while citizens also receive the benefit. In case of newborns, for instance, parents do not have to separately visit the office of registrar and the department of health. Instead, with X-Road, the hospitals will send the information directly to the office of registrar which will also automatically register for the health insurance. This platform, therefore, helps not only reduce red tape, but also facilitate the rights to health to every citizen since birth.
Open by default
The digital transformation should include citizens as decision makers which will eventually help the government devise inclusive policy as well as developing more accessible public services. In Columbia, the governmental project, Urna de Crital, has utilised various platforms, both offline and online, to open up a space for citizens to influence the government’s decision making as well as suggest any policy recommendations.
Throughout its entire lifecycle, from drafting to execution, the digital government should be user-driven which is, in other words, people-centric. The design should include how citizens can easily participate with state matters as it will not only help create inclusive policy and accessible public services, but also empowers the citizens to participate more and thus bring digital transformation to reality.
Instead of responding to people’s needs by a push and pull strategy, the digital government should be proactive in preempting what citizens need beforehand. For instance, the government could predict and then provide citizens with answers to frequently asked questions on public services via online platforms or mobile phone applications so that they can understand and easily access public services.