The relationship that citizens have with governments is changing. It used to be largely one-way, with governments engaging in projects to create services they believe are needed – but which are not based on real-time feedback on what citizens actually want.

Now, more and more governments are embracing a two-way, collaborative relationship with their constituents. This simply makes sense, as citizens are the ones whose lives will be impacted by any decisions and policies made.

Here, it is about taking government to the people, not the other way around – and this is just one compelling argument for embracing digital transformation.

Citizen-centric governments have five distinct characteristics:

1. They work in a joined-up way, cutting across silos and sharing data freely across agencies.

The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs have a keen focus on predictive services that will support citizens through key moments in their lives – for instance, when they have a baby, or when a loved one passes on.

In 2016, SmartStart was launched as a platform for new and expectant parents, guiding them on what to do at each stage, such as registering the birth and getting a national health number. Every related digital service is available in one convenient place.

The platform is a multi-agency effort involving five ministries and agencies, Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs of New Zealand, tells GovInsider. The country is now looking into integrating datasets between ministries, which is crucial for joined-up government to work.

2. They embrace technology and innovation, which enable better service delivery.

The UK Government has adopted a concept called Government-as-a-Platform, in which all government agencies share platforms such as GOV.UK Pay instead of having to procure and build them. This way, services will be faster, easier and cheaper to create.

Payments is a great example: “If your new service requires some sort of payment to government from users, you could plug it into a cross-government payments platform,” writes Felicity Singleton, Programme Director at Government Digital Service, in a blog post. She notes that procuring a bespoke payments system just for your service would take longer and cost more.

3. They are agile and flexible, continuously adapting to the changing needs of the public.

In 2016, Singapore’s Government Technology Agency worked with the Singapore Land Authority to create paperless property title deeds that can be stored digitally. The paperless scheme effectively reduces the risk of lost or damaged titles, and cuts fraudulent use.

The process of replacing a lost title deed used to take two months, according to GovTech’s then-CEO, Jacqueline Poh. Even if citizens wanted to view information on their own property or its title information, they would have to purchase it for a fee. All of this is now available free of charge online.

Such a system also saves citizens the hassle of locating paper title deeds when they want to sell their properties.

4. They are driven by insight.

The Government of South Australia launched a participatory budgeting initiative last year, which invites citizens to vote on how to allocate over $30 million worth of funds to neighbourhood improvement projects. They may also suggest improvements: better street lighting, for example, or a community garden.

This effectively allowed South Australians to have a say in the decision-making, and make the changes that they want to see, Gail Fairlamb, Director of the Strategic Engagement unit of South Australia, told GovInsider.

5. They work closely with third-party providers, as they can deliver services more efficiently and often at a lower cost to taxpayers.

The Ministry of Health Brunei partnered with global IT services provider DXC Technology to create a comprehensive healthcare information system. The e-health system would span all of the country’s health facilities and make every health record easily accessible to physicians and other healthcare professionals anywhere, anytime.

DXC Technology offered deep knowledge of the healthcare industry, an established software solution, and a wide range of skills to help the health ministry develop such an advanced system. It took less than two years to build and implement.

The journey to citizen centricity will be long and complex, as governments overhaul systems and processes across the board. Nevertheless, with a keen focus on the concept of ‘citizens first’, governments will be able to do their functions better – and citizens are happier as a result.

Ho Yik Joon is Chief Technologist, Singapore at DXC Technology.

Image by Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy OoiCC BY 2.0