What’s holding back uptake of next-gen public services?

The huge uptake of state online payments and ATO’s MyTax service can overshadow the gradual impact on those who struggle with change. In the push for e-government, we can’t forget those with low digital literacy. Use plain language — and get rid of CAPTCHAs.

Although moving more government services online can reap great benefits, it can also end up excluding older people and migrants if government does not provide sufficient assistance, argues a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Based on data from a survey on problem solving in technology-rich environments, Adults, Computers and Learning: What’s the Problem? argues that while putting more services online can encourage more people to make the effort to learn the necessary ICT skills to engage with government, “initiatives designed to make the internet the default medium of access to and interaction with public administrations may run the risk of excluding certain subgroups of the population unless alternative access points are provided and websites are designed to be used by adults with low literacy, numeracy or ICT skills.”

Older people, those with less formal education, and those from non-English speaking backgrounds are less likely to possess the skills to take advantage of e-government services, says the report — though there is significant variability between countries as to how strongly affected these groups tend to be.

Scandinavian countries lead the world in this area, thanks in part to a high employment rate among older citizens, as well as good vocational training systems for low-skilled or unemployed workers, migrants and refugees.  Denmark, for example, has shown a “remarkable increase” in the use of the internet for interacting with public authorities, the OECD notes: in 2008, 49% of Danish adults used e-government services; in 2013, this was 85%.

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