• Opinion
  • March 13, 2019
  • 6 minutes
  • 1

How digital government can help a pregnant dog owner who got fired

Opinion: Digital technology means we can put citizens at the heart of service design

This piece was written by Kay Hooghoudt, a government advisor on digital strategy and cloud adoption. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed. 


Historically, technology has been seen as a way for governments to cut costs by automating processes and reducing human and physical resources. But that’s an outdated view — especially among younger generations for whom technology is just part of life.

In fact, citizens of all ages now want their governments to catch up with other sectors and offer better, faster, easier online services. Imagine all the services your government could offer you, joined-up and tailored exactly for you. What would that look like?

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Buying a dog

Suppose you buy a dog. From the moment you become a dog-owner, you have rights and obligations. While you’re entitled to walk and own your dog, in most countries you must also register your dog, pay taxes on it and clear its poop when you’re out walking, or you get fined.

Wouldn’t it be great if, once you’ve bought your dog, you automatically get a notice from your council congratulating you on your new pet, suggesting a conveniently-located centre where you can train it, telling you where you can find a recommended vet and dog-walking services, a list of do’s and don’ts for local dog owners, a note to let you know that the necessary tax will be added to your next local tax bill — and, oh yes, a suggestion for a dog-walking social club in your neighbourhood?

Discovering you’re pregnant

Now let’s assume that, as a proud new dog owner, you then discover that you’re three months pregnant.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if, after being congratulated online by your government, you receive a message suggesting times for an appointment with your doctor, links to the nearest daycare facilities, details of pregnancy yoga courses (for mum and dad), a note to let you know that your tax code will be adjusted accordingly when the time comes, details of the child benefit payments you’ll be eligible for, and so on.

Wouldn’t that be awesome public service?

Redundancy and new employment

Unfortunately, the next week, your boss tells you that you’ve been selected for redundancy and you need to find a new job.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your employer automatically notifies the relevant government employment department, the employment department automatically cascades information to all other relevant government agencies (unemployment benefits, pensions, housing and so on), who each calculate the effects on you and your family?

From there, you get digital notifications, with links to trigger processing and payments to your bank account. Not only that, the employment agency is triggered to arrange a meeting with you to assess your situation and devise a personalised action plan for re-employment.

Analytics match your digital profile with job vacancies and training courses across multiple media (social media, job sites) and give you links to social networks to explore a career change.

You get automatic notifications of new opportunities to arrange job interviews and retraining.

You find a new job and go online to notify government. You get a digital “job start” pack, including details of training you need for your new job and travel details and real-time updates on how best to reach your new workplace.

The effects on your benefits and tax position are reversed across all government departments.

Rethinking public services

Does all this seem like fantasy? Not anymore. Digital technologies make it possible to put citizens right at the heart of service design.

With cloud, and maybe even Blockchain in the near future, the idea of giving citizens access to all government departments through one unique ID and one consistent user interface becomes really achievable.

Digital technologies have become integral to almost all aspects of our everyday. The pregnant dog owner is supported and enabled by government to get through the realities of life.

It’s time for public sectors to rethink citizen services to make the world a better place for the people they serve. — Kay Hooghoudt

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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