Citizens in Scotland are open to engaging more with the public sector online. But for the Scottish Public Sector to realise its digital ambition of innovative and integrated public services it must not forget those citizens who can’t use digital services.
In September 2012 the Scottish Government published ‘Scotland’s Digital Future: Delivery of Public Services’ in response to the McClelland and Christie reviews and announced a digital public services vision. By delivering public services primarily online, this ambition targets an improved experience for citizens of government services, at a reduced cost to the public purse.
In Scotland, we now have established digital public services strategies in each sector and mature governance arrangements that oversees their delivery. This achievement should not be underestimated. In a sector such as health, where each organisation is fairly automatous, the desire to work collaboratively to improve the services and outcomes cannot be underestimated; and, with the Health and Social Care agenda becoming an increasing priority, we are starting to see improved cross-sector collaboration and the start of truly integrated public services.
However, despite research indicating a clear appetite for online government services amongst the majority of citizens, an approach that makes provision for everyone is needed. This is because obligations such as the Equality Act 2010 require organisations to make provision for as wide an audience as possible, regardless of their age, disability, gender, beliefs etc.
Our recent work in the public sector outlines three citizen groups in relation to public sector digital services: those who will use the digital services, those who won’t, and those who can’t.
The thought of being required to change your ‘channel of choice’ from offline to online can for some citizens be an unwelcome one, even for those who have the capability to use online services - these citizens form the won’ts. Unlike the can’ts, these citizens don’t have complex personal or technological barriers to overcome, but lack the receptiveness for change that marks those who will embrace the new service.
For those citizens who can’t access online government services - be it due to a lack of broadband, lack of skills and confidence, language challenges, or a disability / religious barrier - the approach known as Assisted Digital is needed.
Assisted Digital is about supporting citizens to use digital public sector services who can't use them independently.
However, identifying citizens’ varied personal, social and economic circumstances to determine their need for Assisted Digital support is not straightforward. Neither are any two digital services precisely the same. Determining the most appropriate channel strategy, supporting business processes, and follow-up activity requires both deep knowledge of the service being provided and the desired citizen experience. These choices may involve huge disparities of cost and citizen experience between them, and may require vastly contrasting levels of rigour.
In short, this is not a task to be taken lightly.
The successful delivery of an Assisted Digital service has the potential to provide support for those who really need it, in addition to satisfying the digital appetite across the Scottish Public Sector. Furthermore, the benefits received from a successful Assisted Digital service can be far wider than initially aimed for. Increased digital adoption by the citizen, not only for the originally intended services but across a range of government services, is a realistic target – provided the experience is positive, and continues to improve in response to citizen’s needs.
For the full report and more information on our approach to Digital Public Services and Assisted Digital – please click here.
Jonathan Meddes, Director, Consulting