Digital government: Creating real connections (Second Part)

Marie Stephanie C. Tan-Hamed

Second of two parts

To better understand how lives are changing in the connected world, EY launched a new research study with over 12,000 respondents of working age called Connected Citizens. This global study looked at what these respondents value, their top concerns, and how they feel about the impact of technology. The study then aimed to examine their expectations of the function of the government, the provision of public services, and the nature of the interaction between those in power and those under it.

In the first part of this article, we discussed the impact of technology in a more pervasive role, broader concerns from citizens regarding the impact of technology, and the seven Connected Citizens personas identified in the study.

In this second part of the article, we discuss four key areas government can focus on to better engage with the public: agile and innovative policymaking, inclusive digitization, responsible data use, and public engagement and participation.

Governments need to better anticipate the needs of the population and prevent crises before they arise. For example, governments can introduce new social safety net programs (like guaranteed minimum income or universal basic income) for low-income, disadvantaged populations.

Case in point, in some countries, clearer rules regarding employment status and rights, as well as portable benefits plans that maintain coverage as employees move geographically, change employers, or experience periods of unemployment or self-employment, are some of the new policies being explored to combat income insecurity for those in precarious work, such as the self-employed and gig economy workers.

Other initiatives include more flexible and lifelong education and retraining programs that help workers remain relevant and competitive, skills road maps that assist governments in understanding future-forward skills and jobs, personal learning accounts that provide workers with funds to learn new skills, and active labor market policies (ALMPs) to aid the unemployed and low-income workers in finding employment or retraining.

Digitalization is necessary to quickly modernize public services and give citizens the same level of service as the private sector. However, governments must accomplish this while leveling society and making sure that no group is left behind.

Broadband and 5G networks, among other investments in high-speed digital infrastructure, are required to ensure connection throughout a nation.

Governments can also assist in supplying individuals with online-accessible devices and running programs to increase digital literacy, providing people the knowledge and assurance to connect with digital services. However, companies must also make sure that individuals who are not online have access to services in alternate ways. Citizens already comfortable with technology have higher expectations for the quality, expediency, convenience, and cost-effectiveness of service delivery.

Governments can take a number of actions to address these citizens’ needs. The digital National ID system is a step in the right direction to help make it simpler for users to access a variety of services. They can also increase the use of smart websites and mobile applications that offer one-stop access to numerous government services and push notifications with timely information; develop integrated digital platforms that allow data sharing between various government systems so that people only have to enter personal information once; fulfill service demands end-to-end digitally; promote AI-powered chat bots to engage with users and conduct transactions; and create a true omnichannel experience enabling users to access services on various platforms and through various devices.

Governments will be able to design their services with the aid of design thinking, customer experience laboratories, and data analytics as they progress toward more proactive and even predictive service delivery.

More data than ever before is being created, stored, and analyzed for the benefit of society, but there is also debate and controversy surrounding the expanding usage of data. New regulatory, legal, and governance structures are required for nations to take advantage of opportunities while also managing possible risks for citizens. Policymakers will need to carefully consider concerns like data privacy, surveillance technology, the equity built into algorithms, and the integrity of the information ecosystem. The recent controversial SIM Registration Law is one example where people are anxious about the access to their personal data.

Governments are already tightening the laws governing how personal data is used. Furthermore, most governments already have laws that grant citizens active control over their data as well as the right to know how it is being used, such as the Philippine Data Privacy Act of 2012.

Regulators must take into account how businesses use data in their AI systems. The general public is becoming more aware of the issues with algorithmic decision-making, namely in how it can result in discrimination against particular groups or result in poor decision-making. The regulatory setting needs to increase public confidence in these developing new technologies.

Governments, public service providers, enterprises, and other organizations will need open governance systems at the institutional level to show how the data rights of people are protected.

Organizations could also pledge to be open about the automated decision-making tools they employ and the safeguards they have in place. Governments will also better manage risks, guard against negative consequences, and foster the necessary trust as more organizations adopt these ethical design and governance best practices.

Top-down governance methods will no longer be regarded as efficient nor legitimate in the future as many citizens demand shared, transparent, and participatory decision-making. Governments can have the opportunity to interact with citizens on problems that matter to them by gathering citizen feedback on a massive scale, thanks to new digital e-participation tools like social media, smartphone apps, and online digital platforms. Vox populi may take on a new digital meaning in the future.

However, governments can ensure that citizens are not just consulted but also able to influence important choices. Many people are experimenting with various engagement methods to find, discuss, and decide on a variety of topics. For instance, Australia, Ireland, and other nations have employed deliberative citizen juries to jointly develop answers to difficult social and economic problems.

Initiatives for participatory budgeting which give residents a say in how public funds are spent are gaining popularity. More than 180 policy laboratories have been established globally to foster ideas and serve as a testing ground for policies in areas like education, health, and justice. Additionally, government-sponsored hackathons have proven to be a successful tool to get people involved in developing new responses to pandemic-related economic, social, and technological concerns.

Most governments and public institutions around the world are starting open data programs and establishing platforms for data exchange, emphasizing making data broadly accessible to third parties, especially citizens, to support the creation of original solutions to challenging issues while enhancing accountability and transparency. These are all crucial projects that can help governments in a networked world better serve all their citizens.

Thanks to advancements in data and technology, governments now have a unique chance to better serve their populations. However, as with any revolutionary possibility, there is an inherent risk: that the desire to digitize as much and as rapidly as possible leads to a one-size-fits-all strategy that actually fits only a few citizens, further separating people from government.

The Philippine government in particular has acknowledged the global megatrend of disruptive technologies that pivot transformation in various sectors — augmenting economic development and improving citizen well-being.

To address economic recovery, the recently published Philippine Development Plan for 2023 to 2028 takes on the underlying theme of transforming the economic and social sectors and institutions for a prosperous, inclusive, and resilient society, with the digitalization of government services in the forefront of its transformation agenda.

Included in the priority bills of the 19th Congress is the passage of the Open Access in Data Transmission Act that will improve competition and promote regulatory efficiencies in the digital market, and the Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Act and Cybersecurity Act that will strengthen the security and resilience of the Philippine cyberspace. These legislative national government agendas will pave the way to more and better programs, resulting in better government services delivery.

By understanding that different people have different levels of digital maturity and access, governments will be able to better plan digital service delivery mechanisms that meet all of the needs of their citizens. Governments can do this to increase their effectiveness and efficiency, address digital exclusion to reduce social inequality, and contribute to the creation of more equitable social services for all.


This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Marie Stephanie C. Tan-Hamed is a strategy and transactions partner, EY Parthenon partner and PH Government and Public Sector leader of SGV & Co.

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