Filter out all the noise and motherhood about digital government and transformation and the single thing Australian citizens want most from public services is basic confidence they can complete transactions from beginning to end in one hit.
That that’s the key takeaway from the second annual research sweep from technology and services stalwart Unisys, which has taken to polling citizens in six Asia Pacific countries to get answers on questions agencies might prefer not to publicly ask.
In an era when supplier-commissioned research evidence is rarely a stone’s throw from a product placement or solution plug, the Unisys Connected Government Survey has this year managed to set itself apart by illuminating and confirming what many frontline agencies are likely to have suspected for years.
Public expectations of interactions with government aren’t always consistent, they can vary widely based on the mix of channel and service or outcome — and while we mightn’t trust agencies with our personal data, we do assume and expect they will share it.
Recalculating policy by numbers
Using researcher Omnipoll, some 1300 Australians (adults) were surveyed about their attitudes “towards digital government services”, with Unisys saying the sample was weighted to the Census.
The superficially good news for government’s digerati is that the number of Australians who primarily prefer to engage with government through online channels (smartphone, tablet, computer) has leapt from 29% in 2016 to 43% in 2017.
Concurrently, preference for ‘in person’ engagement slid from 40% to 28% for the same period.
Now here’s where the real fun starts.
The issue of engagement (think busy signal) could possibly be a factor in the preference for phone as a channel. It nosedived from 25% in 2016 to just 10% in 2017 possibly suggesting Australians would rather hang up than hang on hold – but we’re guessing.
People who couldn’t say? The great undecided grew from just 6% in 2016 to 13%. That might be good news for service delivery folk if it means people don’t have to make up their minds on a channel to come to them.
“[The] research reveals that citizens indeed want o engage with government in different ways depending on the interaction,” Unisys’ Asia Pacific vice president for public sector, Lysandra Schmutter.
“These needs must be taken into account when designing digital strategies for government agencies.”
Trust us not to trust you. Or us. But get on with it…
No public sector satisfaction survey would be complete without digging into the area of trust, a finite commodity governments occasionally misprice because their customers can’t just shop around for welfare agencies or regulators like they do for banks or airlines.
With public handwringing over the use, abuse or underutilisation of public and citizen data now at saturation levels, the Connected Government Survey seems to be a window into mixed expectations.
Support for government data sharing – and that’s sharing data within government rather than reselling historical house price data – is unsurprisingly “tied to purpose”.
Enabling law enforcement agencies to “identify crime and terrorism” drew the biggest backing, with 48% of respondents listed under “fully support”. At just under half the sample it’s hardly ringing endorsement. Those who “don’t support” came in at 15%.
The biggest reason respondents who didn’t want government to share their data gave was that it was not clear how government would use the data.
Whether certain federal data-led recovery efforts for alleged overpayments played a part in this isn’t clear.
What those in government do know is that the issue went parabolic in the Christmas break news vacuum of 2016/17 to the elation of some politicians, far less so to those rostered on for APS holiday season duty.
Facebook avoidance dividend
There was a time (18 months ago) when government agencies could be forgiven for thinking citizens would storm the barricades unless Facebook became the primary channel for service delivery, digital identity and all updates of record.
Yet predictions of a spontaneous citizen viral uprising may have initially been overstated — even if routine grumbling and castigation of service delivery issues remains a ‘go to’ reaction and ‘#fail’ memes remain mainstream.
When asked how they wanted to use their smartphones to engage with government, just 17% said they wanted to access government information via social media.
Some 63% said they wanted a single app to access multiple government services, a figure only marginally contradicted by 41% saying they wanted “an app specific to multiple government agencies”.
“Not all transactions are the same,” Unisys’ Schmutter observed, adding that citizens still wanted multiple channels that could interoperate or collaborate as needed.