In times of peril, citizens typically turn to their leaders and governing institutions for support. The 2019–20 bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic have seen more Australians relying on governments for assistance and action to ensure their core human needs, such as safety and security, continue to be met.
A new survey conducted by PwC Australia based on a series of citizen ‘pulse checks’ suggests that these events have altered the nature of the relationship between citizens and the public sector, with Australians now significantly more trusting of their governments.
The survey findings also highlighted the shifting nature of demand for digital access to services, with more than a third of respondents saying their use of digital channels to access government services has increased during the pandemic.
There is now an opportunity for Australian governments to maintain the renewed levels of trust and momentum around responsive services to build better and more tailored services for citizens.
Citizen ‘pulse check’ surveys
PwC’s Centre for Citizen Research surveyed a large, representative sample of Australians to gauge attitudes, trust in government and experiences of government services.
The first Citizen Survey was conducted in 2018, then twice more in 2020 (June and October), providing a barometer of citizen sentiment before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The subsequent report, Taking the next step, together, draws on the findings of these citizen ‘pulse check’ surveys to inform government service delivery requirements.
Among other questions, respondents were asked to rate their current level of trust in Australian government institutions on a scale of 0 to 100: ‘high trust’ refers to a rating of 71–100 out of 100.
Renewed public trust a reward for greater transparency
The survey results suggest that Australians, by and large, have been impressed with the job their governments have done in responding to the pandemic.
Back in 2018, when PwC first conducted the survey, just 18% of Australian citizens said they had ‘high trust’ in government. When PwC Australia ran the same survey in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the difference was stark. High trust in government soared to 45% by June and remained at these levels in October (46%).
The reason for this turnaround appears to be the greater levels of transparency and honesty demonstrated by governments in their response to COVID-19. We know from previous research that these two factors are critical in developing and sustaining trust, and so the data appears to show that efforts to provide frequent and transparent communication to the community about restriction changes, the fast-tracking of rebates for those directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19, and improvements to contact tracing measures are being rewarded.
The needs of the most vulnerable highlight the importance of a human touch
Renewed trust has not been the case everywhere. For some cohorts of our society, such as younger people (aged 18-24) and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) citizens, trust in government has actually fallen since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Only 36% of young Australians had high levels of trust in government in June, and by the October survey this had fallen to just 22%. The sentiment was similar among CALD citizens (although starting from a higher base): 54% said they had high trust in government in June, compared to 45% in October.
Both these groups have been hit hard by the pandemic. The survey found they were more likely to report feeling stressed about job security, and less likely to feel confident about sharing personal data with government agencies. As the pandemic exacerbates the wealth divide, it will be more important than ever for governments to address such trust deficits.
So how does government earn the trust of those citizens who are feeling vulnerable and marginalised? Advanced analytics combined with user-focused design will help to humanise the digital experience to better predict needs and deliver more tailored, effective and inclusive services.
Using increased trust in government to build better citizen services
Governments can retain and grow citizen trust by enhancing citizens’ experiences of government services. To achieve this, government can:
- Communicate and influence: Ensure communication with citizens is timely, clear, relevant and consistent while being empathetic to their immediate context and needs.
- Listen and take decisive action: Capture and respond to feedback from citizens in real time to adapt and act quickly to meet their needs.
- Reimagine services and products: Change how governments design, create and deliver services to become a trusted partner who is able to meet citizens’ expectations and evolving needs, enabled by digital technology.
- Scale and deliver: Leverage insights from across agencies, states and the nation to quickly scale and optimise solutions – and embed systems and processes – to empower citizen-centric experiences.
- Lead and enable empowered culture: Have a clear citizen-focused vision and invest in a strong culture that supports employees and citizens alike. Have the patience and perseverance to embed change across traditional organisations and to break down silos to foster new ways of working.
For the full Citizen Survey 2020 report and findings, visit: www.pwc.com.au/citizensurvey2020
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