A death in the family is never easy. New Zealand will soon be trying to make the process a little smoother.
The next big thing in predictive services for the country will focus on the end of life—to make sure that families have the information they need to help them at this difficult time, Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs of New Zealand, tells GovInsider.
“The things you need to know about what happens when someone’s life comes to an end, how you wind up their affairs, have their funeral organised,” Dunne explains. While it is in early stages, it will be “the next big priority” for the Department of Internal Affairs, he adds.
GovInsider caught up with Dunne to learn more about how predictive services improve citizen’s interactions with the government; how governments can lead multi-agency projects; and his vision for New Zealand’s digital services.
At the beginning with SmartStart
This end-of-life initiative will be modelled after SmartStart, the country’s recently-launched predictive service platform for new parents, according to Dunne. “We felt that we needed to do more to give new parents all of the information they needed in the lead-up to the birth of their child and afterwards, but have it in one place,” Dunne says.
“We felt that we needed to do more to give new parents all of the information they needed… but have it in one place.”
The service provides a checklist of the steps that parents need to take, and ensures that their new bundle of joy is entered into the system for things such as birth registration and national health number.
Once all of the relevant data is pulled together from various ministries and agencies and put on one website, it can be accessed by the authorities to provide relevant information—but also by the citizens to get the material and assistance that they need, Dunne adds.
Since it was launched in December last year, SmartStart has seen encouraging support, with 65,000 registrations to date.
SmartStart was the first part of “an overall process through life” that the Department is developing, says Dunne. Intermediate life stages won’t be covered as much as those “critical points” at the beginning and end of life, when people most need to access information and details about related government services, all in one place, he explains. “It’s like we’ve gone from the cradle to the grave.”
When citizen meets government
This push for improved service delivery has been in the works for some time now. In 2013, the New Zealand government proposed ten key ‘result areas’ or objectives under the Better Public Services program. One of these objectives was to have 70% of the ten most common interactions between a citizen and the government be conducted online by the end of 2017, Dunne says.
As for the Department’s progress towards this target, Dunne says they are “well on track”. And at its core is an understanding of the new expectations that citizens have of government services. “The question now isn’t ‘Here’s what we can do, fit your lives around it’ but ‘What do you expect of us, and what services are you seeking?’” says Dunne.
Imagine: the average citizen could be home at night watching the news on TV, and at the same time, using their mobile phone to book their next trip or pay their insurance bill. It’s convenient, and at a time and place of their choosing, says Dunne. Why can’t government services be the same?
“My strong view is that citizens increasingly want to interact with government on the same basis,” he adds. “Not between nine to five, they’re going to an office. Not in normal working hours, but when it suits them.”
Today, this relationship is the new normal. Governments have to be prepared to meet this demand, and provide service on weekends and “right around the clock”, adds Dunne.
Joining up agencies
SmartStart is a multi-agency effort, involving the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development, Inland Revenue Department, national voluntary agency Plunket, and New Zealand College of Midwives. Such an undertaking in other governments could prove daunting, but in New Zealand, people are “quite used” to the fact that agencies talk to each other, even if they are in their own separate space, Dunne explains.
Joining up the agencies’ data is essential to multi-agency projects. New Zealand is now looking into whether to integrate datasets between ministries and have one common database that, with safeguards in place, each agency can enter and use, according to Dunne.
“For a small society, one of the common things I hear from other countries is, ‘How did you get them talking to each other?’ Well, we just did,” he says. Put simply? “People don’t live their lives in silos. Government agencies shouldn’t operate in silos.”
“People don’t live their lives in silos. Government agencies shouldn’t operate in silos.”
As for the invisible barriers that may stop agencies from communicating with each other, Dunne thinks it boils down to a few factors: “a little bit of bureaucracy and tradition”, a fear of the unknown, and the uncertainty surrounding how to improve on how a service has traditionally been provided.
Nevertheless, Dunne envisions “really joined-up government services” for New Zealand, where the citizen has a single point of entry for all their needs, and knows that information provided once doesn’t have to be replicated. “New Zealand has a funny people. We don’t take to new technology very easily but on another level, we’re very fast adaptors,” he remarks.
The humble library
As with many other countries, New Zealand faces problems when reaching out to the rural population. Some of New Zealand’s rural areas don’t have access to ultra-fast broadband, says Dunne, which hinders service delivery. Here, it’s a matter of joining forces with local government, and using the same strategy of making sure that the information is available and accessible, says Dunne.
“During the Christchurch earthquakes a few years ago, a lot of use was made of local libraries as gathering points for people because the libraries had all the information. They were visible places in local communities and they were convenient,” he explains. “[We’re] taking that model one step forward. Using institutions like libraries at a local level, in small towns and suburbs, they can be linked into the online systems.”
These “focal points” of communities give rural citizens without computers or tablets a facility where they can interact with government, without having to travel to Wellington or the other big towns, Dunne adds.
The best of the D5
Looking to the horizon, Dunne is quick to share his priorities for the future. Passport services is one of them. “We’re doing extremely well there, but we can just improve our efficiency, get that delivery time for a new passport down to even shorter than it is at the moment,” he shares. Already, the processing time to get a new passport has been cut down from two to three weeks a few years ago, to two to three days today.
Dunne also hopes to build on and expand SmartStart, to reach out to “the more disadvantaged communities or the less literate communities, or the people for whom English language is a challenge”. And eventually, he wants to look into citizen’s interactions with the social welfare system, and improve on how they receive their payments.
Summed up, Dunne’s vision for New Zealand’s government services is simple. “I want us to be the best of the D5 countries,” he declares. New Zealand is part of the Digital 5 group of digitally-advanced nations, alongside Estonia, Great Britain, South Korea and Israel. “I want us to provide the biggest range of online services to our citizens,” Dunne continues. “I want us to be respected for what we do as competent and efficient, and providing services that people need.”
And soon enough, New Zealanders will be able to easily access the services they need at the right times, throughout their entire lives—making big life events just a bit easier to handle.