Digitization in government often boils down to efficiency – and I think that is a shame. In essence, it is actually something much more tangible than that: it can create a completely different relationship between the government and its citizens. Digitization allows information to be shared quickly and simply, and it makes it easy to involve people ‘en masse’ in the organization of their own environment.
Recently, I was interested in reading the blog by the Dutch Digi Commissioner Bas Eenhoorn. In the article he spoke out against how our government is going digital: in his opinion, it focuses too much on improving processes. ‘Put the people first’, or as we say at Decos: ‘Put People in the lead’, it is so obvious but it does not happen enough. The result is that many of the digital services are complex, therefore people do not use them a lot or use them correctly. ‘What we really need now is for the government to provide room for innovation from a citizen’s perspective,” according to the Digi Commissioner.
I fully agree with Eenhoorn. The government is currently digitizing services in many areas. The Tax Authority was, according to government standards, one of the first departments to go digital with an innovative, simple and honest slogan: ‘niet leuker maar wel makkelijker’, which translates into ‘we cannot make it more fun, but we can make it easier’. That is how I see it too.
You can now access the Tax Authority directly on Mijnoverheid.nl, ‘our’ digital channel for the government. This digital channel is a great idea, even though it took a long time to progress from a one-way country street (very limited message box) into a multi-lane highway.
In general, the government still works a lot from an ‘inside out’ mentality. It tackles projects from a master plan perspective based on a business case that mainly focuses on cost benefits for the government itself and the time savings for government officials. I believe this 180° method should have a different approach. It should always focus on the quality of the service provided to citizens. Spend less time coming up with projects and more time allowing agile teams comprised of the government, the private sector and citizens to work together. These agile teams can then create and develop services with and for the citizens.
I was recently in India again, where we work on many digitization projects with the government. In many ways, India lags behind the Netherlands in digital services, but in my experience India is more willing to experiment with Public Private Partnerships. It is a wonderful example the Netherlands can learn from!
Let’s briefly return to the basic purpose for the government programme: Why large-scale digitization? In my opinion, ‘citizens’ do not want to use services from an external organization called ‘the government’. Instead the government should serve as a public organization that facilitates its citizens in a democratic manner to create their own world (community, municipality, country) that fits their needs and preferences. Digitization can enable this kind of facilitative government: thanks to online environments, people can find their information very quickly and easily, establish contact and take action. And if the government does not facilitate and participate…. we will circumvent the government and create it ourselves. A good example of this is the citizens’ initiative in the community where I live. We created a WhatsApp neighbourhood watch group. It works like a charm!
If the government gives people more access and influence through digital government services, citizens will truly become the point of focus and they will be able to work alongside the government to create a good living environment.