The relationship between government bodies and the public has been severely tested and, ultimately, strengthened in Australia during the past 12 months.
Uncertainty accompanying Covid has meant community expectations around consistent and clear information have never been greater.
Even in the early stages of the disaster, public appetite for information was so great that slowed Internet speeds around the country, as Australians swarmed the Internet looking for more information on the crisis.
The unwelcome arrival of the virus meant that almost overnight, every aspect of life for citizens was impacted by the pandemic. In turn, pressure was applied to government agencies across the country.
Infection rates, vaccination program rollouts, business closures, lockdown details and more meant every government department has needed to rethink its approach to data disclosure.
By any measure, the response by government bodies in Australia has been stellar. Departments raced to digital service delivery to alleviate bottlenecks, communicate with constituents, and enable newly-remote workforces. Federal, State and Local governments were able to deploy data-rich services within weeks (or in some instances even days) rather than months or years.
For many organisations there is now an opportunity to consider how the data lessons learned through the pandemic can be continued to be applied as the recovery period continues, and beyond.
Considerations for response
The speed of response by Australian government bodies is even more breathtaking when accounting for the many considerations required for this project.
Departmental leads around the world have needed to balance the technical possibilities of data delivery with real-world considerations on how that data might be absorbed and used by the public.
In an advisory during the early stages of the pandemic, The Black Dog Institute raised concerns about misinformation and the long-term mental health of Australians. The Institute wrote: “Community fear and panic can be fueled by rumours, myths and misinformation, sensationalised and alarmist media coverage, and confusing information and messaging and advice from experts and the government.”
Fortunately, government bodies are sensitive to this role. For example, there has been much work focusing on avoiding information overload. In the United States the Los Angeles Innovation Team built an empathy-centred information system for its pandemic updates. These reports showcase how design thinking and reflection can be employed to prevent readers from becoming numb to repetitive, negative news and reduce the emotional exertion of its stakeholders.
Also important has been the digestibility of information – ensuring that it can be best understood by a wide range of community members.
Data experts and technology companies have been working closely with governments to secure reliable data.
For example, early in the pandemic Tableau created online resources that allowed government bodies to download and customise expert-created data visualisations which can be used to answer public-facing questions such as the local spread of the virus, areas most impacted, death totals, the availability of testing or hospital beds, or PPE supply inventories.
Government bodies have been keen to learn and benefit from each in constructing their data-led pandemic response.
In the US at least 20 states and many local government organisations, including New York City, are collaboratively using tools like Tableau to provide important COVID-19 related data to more than 200 million US citizens in their regions.
Closer to home, researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Kirby Institute have come together on a data-led response program to protect remote indigenous communities from the disease.
Utilising risk analytics and data visualisations, such projects mean that government and health bodies are able to identify sections of the community that might be hardest hit by the virus, enabling a quicker and more effective response.
Thinking beyond the pandemic
This understanding, collaboration and technical approaches will help with pandemic response activity during the coming months. However, it may also have an important long-term legacy – better use of data to maintain hard-won public trust.
Departments and bodies throughout Australia can take the lessons learned from protecting themselves and their communities, to develop self-service models for citizens to engage with government through technology.
This is important as public expectations around government interactions have been raised as a result of the pandemic. These will persist even long after the virus’ threat has receded.
A joint research report from Salesforce and BCG found 65% of Australians now expect the quality of government digital services to meet or exceed the digital services provided by leading private sector companies. Some 85% percent of people believe that the quality of their customer experience can increase or decrease their trust in government.
Creating a data culture in government
These last benefits will just be technology focused. Invariably this data-led approach will also impact organisational thinking and decision making.
Platforms such as Tableau make it possible for public sector employees to engage with data and use it to gain insights, improve processes, and achieve their goals. This is a key component of a strong data culture, and a necessary step toward becoming a data-driven organisation.
The pandemic has also heightened the need for strong training programs in data analytics and visualisation.
According to the Federal Government, data analysis and data analytics form one of the country’s seven most critical labour force gaps. Both public and private sector businesses are increasingly reliant on these employees who can gather and interpret large sets of data to support critical decision-making and performance management.
Investing in training and data culture programs will help set-up departments for future success.
The pandemic and the recovery effort have accelerated digital transformation of government at every level, as departments have made use of data and technology to solve complex challenges at scale.
As the public and policymakers see the benefits of an increasingly digital government, this trend will continue. As one state CIO attests, “…this isn’t even a question at this point. Government is now digital. Our world is now going to be all, or very largely digital.”
The consequences of the pandemic in Australia and other countries have been horrific. However, public sector decision-makers now have the opportunity to learn from the progress and best practices of peers, to continue to fight Corona-19 and – in doing so – also be able to maintain public trust.
For more information please visit: https://www.tableau.com/learn/whitepapers/citizens-government-strengthening-relationship-data#form