Potential future states for government service delivery

By Pia Andrews

July 5, 2017

New Zealand’s Lab+ experiment has been testing the concept of what integrated services could look like into the future. The team’s Australian lead, Pia Waugh, explores three models of user-centric services that came out of the research.

In the Lab+ experiment we have been testing the concept of what integrated services could look like into the future, including what a user’s experience with government might be like. We have taken a strong user-centred approach to our service design. We intentionally created a safe, neutral place for people from different agencies to work collaboratively to explore what services could look like and what insights we could discover when you don’t apply an agency-specific lens.

One of the outcomes of this work was, through the useful lens of a life event, to build some experimental future states for government service delivery, built entirely around the user’s needs and taking into account the possibilities of multi-entity service delivery, while ignoring the limitations of the current landscape. Only by planning for what you want can you meaningfully change what you have, and iterating on the status quo can only take you so far.

We chose the events that occur around retirement and becoming a “senior” as our life event, as it traversed various agencies as well as the the private, NGO and public sectors. We analysed previous research as well as conducted our own (all to be published, appropriately anonymised), and were able to identify particular user needs and pain points along with some fascinating insights. This work helped us realise that people like to have different types of interactions with government to meet different needs, and at different points of the journey.

So, without further ado, below are the three concepts that clearly came out of the research we conducted.

1. Conversational services

When trying to actually interact with government, many users talk about wanting some assistance, both because it is complicated and they don’t want to get it wrong, and also because having someone who understands your context can dramatically speed up the process. We found people didn’t mind too much whether it is a person or a machine, but they really want visibility of the interactions that happen between agencies on their behalf, as that would give them the ability to correct the record (where required) without delays.

Users often record the names of people, the details and dates/times of discussions specifically to have a record for their own purposes. So the third element of this guidance/conversational future state was the idea that a transcript of all such interactions would be readily available to you, along with the option to interact in a timely way to keep processes that matter to you on track.

This future state starts with the assumption you’ve been notified about a change to something and that you have the opportunity to enter into a conversation about it. The concept could apply when you would engage with government for a number of services across agencies.

2. Proactive delivery

Secondly, there is a lot of interest within governments internationally to deliver services proactively. There is also a lot of mythology around just how far users want government to do this, and what is even possible. Our research found that users were quite keen for proactive service delivery, such as either being notified of being entitled to something or even automatically getting something from government.

Government data is necessarily retrospective however, so it can be dangerous and intrusive to try to predict, for instance, when people are moving country, or planning a child, or preparing for bereavement. We were aware of the danger of taking proactive delivery too far.

Our users talked to us about how something like being informed that their superannuation payments changing due to the death of a spouse was actually useful, but that some cultures would certainly find it confronting. User input led to the insight that proactive delivery should certainly be both developed in collaboration with users across cultures, and that people should be able to opt in to what they want proactive delivery for.

3. Help me plan

Thirdly, sometimes you just want some guidance or some information to help plan your life. We had some people say that they didn’t want to ask a question in a way that identified them in case their lives were made harder by interacting with government. There are many times in your life when you just need to plan: to move, to consider having a child, to get married, etc. Sometimes people don‘t know all the services, requirements and implications of a life event, which can make them uneasy and also make planning difficult. For these types of interactions, we have a mode of delivery we call “Help me Plan”. This prototype is being implemented as a working (but mocked up) service, specifically so we could dig below the surface to understand the functional requirements of such a solution.

The key here is that people want to be able to provide minimal information about themselves and their circumstances, in an anonymous/unauthenticated context, so they can get the services they need (including the ones they don’t already know about). The potential future state mockup is purposefully generic, enabling a user’s needs to be met through diverse options of functionality and mashing up of content, business rules and other functionality could be provided by government and non-government service providers; with government providing the baseline generic service and the private and community sectors specialising in particular user needs or market segments.

We are still working on this proof of concept and will have the user view of the concept ready to show within the week. Meanwhile, below is a walk through of where we are at right now. This future state proof of concept takes a little more work than the wireframes below due to having to reverse engineering the business logic of government services, but we think you will find it very interesting.

This is a working proof of concept by 3months (a software services company that we’re working with to conceptualise some of the Lab+ work). You can experiment with to explore entitlements based on context, but please note it is a concept demonstration only, and not official nor to be assumed entirely accurate. Meanwhile, below is a walk through of where we are at right now. This future state proof of concept takes a little more work than the wireframes below due to having to reverse engineering the business logic of government services, but we think you will find it very interesting.

There are some examples of such “Help me plan” services already – like SmartStart (for services when expecting a baby) and NZReady (for moving to NZ). These services do help people get informed and take next steps, but the step beyond that for such an approach might be in:

  • dynamic information and services based on user provided context;
  • blending/integrating life events (our research showed a number of people in multiple life events which impacts their needs and planning); and
  • supporting people to then progress with transactions where possible or desirable.

User considerations

There were two factors to clearly consider in taking this proactive approach to government service delivery.

  1. The complexity of the service – Customers clearly had a preference for low and medium-complexity services to be delivered automatically, however where the criteria for the service provision became more complex, or needed to take into account more of a user’s context or nuance, automatic provisioning wasn’t as preferred, due to customers doubting the accuracy of government data. Whilst we can expose that data to customers as per the scenarios we modelled, it might be worth highlighting that there was a somewhat inverse relationship between the complexity of the decision and the desire for automated provisioning.
  2. The nature of the decision – To a certain extent, the research reflected that customers were happy for automated provisioning to be in place primarily where it drives value for the customer, rather than where it drives value for government. For example, customers were less comfortable with the idea of automating the withdrawal of services or automation of decisions that could result in customers getting ‘less’ of something or being penalised for something. So as a rule of thumb, it seemed to be the case that customers said “Automating stuff is great if it means I get more of stuff, but when it comes to me getting less stuff or getting punished, I’d be less keen”. Clearly we can’t look to implement a ‘two-sided’ system that differentiates, however it provides a good indication of where messaging might need to be clear. So from a customer perspective, automation is great for service provisioning, rather than for compliance.


We started this experiment expecting to test a future state for government service delivery, and ended up discovering that multi-modal service delivery is useful to deal with the different ways people want to deal with government at different times, directly or through intermediaries. We are testing these ideas formally with users, but if you’d like to provide feedback as well, please either leave a comment below, or we will make a survey available in the coming days. We will be keeping this feedback separate from the formal user testing (due to the self-selective nature of people tuning in to this blog) but your feedback would be extremely valuable moving forward.

Finally, “Government as a platform” has been one of the foundations of our testing. Our work plan is available if you want to see our approach but in short, the approach makes components of government open so intermediaries or service providers can build new services, products and analysis on the shoulders of existing government components. The breadth of providers that are enabled using Government as a platform can better serve the requirements of an increasingly diverse community.
The more we do in this space, the more obvious that “mashable government” is the only sustainable and scalable approach to genuinely user centred services that don’t simply serve the lowest common denominator, but rather facilitates the myriad needs and modes of people. Perhaps “gov as a platform” could be considered the “digital public infrastructure” of the 21st century.

Lab+ is housed in the Service Innovation Lab, which is an experiment carried out under the leadership of the ICT Partnership Framework’s Service Innovation Group. It’s managed by the Service Innovation Team in Department of Internal Affairs in partnership with Assurity Consulting. This article first appeared on the New Zealand government web toolkit.

Top photo: copyright Government of New Zealand.

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