Three pivots your public service future depends on

By Harshitha Rajashekara

Monday March 22, 2021

Digital is no longer just a nice-to-have, but a must-have
Digital is no longer just a nice-to-have, but a must-have. (Image: Adobe/alphaspirit)

Public service is an ever-evolving activity. It requires continuous, cautious pivoting.

Once more, COVID-19 is pushing public servants to pivot as they face a new crisis of confidence from the public. If they can do this successfully in three key areas, government leaders can beat COVID-19 and salvage much-needed credibility for the foreseeable future. These areas include digital transformation, citizen feedback, and trust-building.

Going digital

Digital is no longer just a “nice to have”, but a “must-have” for governments trying to reach out to citizens. The best way to deliver for an ever-larger and more diverse citizenry is to classify them by age, geography, gender, ethnicity, and economic status.

Historically, different channels and tools were used to connect these segments, such as physical service centres, middle offices, and call-centres. The pandemic however left only one channel (digital), with which to properly deliver services. Whilst offering functional benefits, such as speed and efficiency, digital service channels will be important to understanding the impact services are having on people struggling due to age, location, sex, ethnicity, physical ability, or socio-economic status. Government agencies still taking baby steps must either break into stride, or risk lagging behind.

Covid-19 has, at one point or another, confined people to their homes, giving real weight to the term ‘netizen’. In the past, governments have measured service success according to the number of physical centres rolled out each year. Such touchpoints now seem less important, perhaps even futile, not to mention costly. As a result, governments have had to start training their employees to handle customers digitally, rather than over the counter. Collaborative and customer relationship management (CRM) softwares have become a necessity too, as governments increasingly seek to fill gaps in customer communication and employee collaboration. Investing in the procurement of these tools, as well as training people to use them, will be essential going forward.

Managing citizen feedback

All over the world, citizens living in various lockdown conditions have sought public information from their social media channels. In response, governments have started using social media as a means of getting key information, both from and out to the public. Social media is now the best live space through which to interpret and understand how citizens behave. In my experience, these platforms are proving to be even more effective than traditional feedback correspondence via email.

If this change reveals anything, it is that keeping connections with citizens alive, in real-time, is only going to become more important. In the future, governments that are able to take the public’s pulse will be those that are willing to get up close and personal. Even the smallest connection points will count for more, whether it be sending a surprise thank you note to a citizen for giving feedback, or asking how their recent interaction with a government service went. A person’s vote of confidence in daily functions will soon matter just as much as their vote for leadership.

The last thing any citizen wants to do, in or out of lockdown, is talk to a machine. Social media may be shaping government services, but that doesn’t mean it should be poured into them like cement to fill the cracks. Especially during a pandemic, human touchpoints are necessary to build trust. If your department is leaning on chatbots, reconsider what values this is communicating to citizens.

Building trust

For many governments, Covid-19 has left a backlog of difficult discussions still yet to be had with the public. People will want to know why certain aspects of governments’ responses fell short, and how they intend to make sure those mistakes never happen again. Acknowledging what did happen, and why, is the first step to re-establishing trust. Every country has its own story to tell in this respect, but all citizens will expect transparency and humility from their government when the time comes.

Like a war, a pandemic pushes leadership to its limits. In such dire straits, effective leaders right the way through government means being prepared to get your hands dirty.

A public servant who calls from home with a baby crying or a kettle boiling in the background is instantly more relatable to the citizen. Government services should embrace taking services out of the echoing halls of bureaucracy and into the realm of the everyday.

If governments attempt to revert to things as they were before the pandemic, citizens will take this as a sign of disrespect towards everything they’ve come to learn and value throughout. We live in a changed world. For government, as for us all, the only way is forward.

This article is curated from Apolitical.


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