Citizen-Centric Government: What It Looks like and How to Get There

Written by Daniel Searle, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Public Sector (UK & MEMA)
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Out with the old

What is government for if not to represent and serve the people? For a government to be effective, therefore, the citizen must be at the heart of all its decisions. Too often, governments engage in projects to create services they believe are needed but which are not based on real-time feedback from the general population on what they actually want.

‘It’s about taking the government to the people,’ says Suparno Banerjee, Vice President and head of Public Sector Strategy at HPE (pictured, left), ‘not the people to the government.’

Truly taking advantage of the technologies and approaches that could best serve the citizen today means embarking on a digital transformation, not just of a project or a department, but of the whole government – and that isn’t an easy process.


The beauty of a citizen-centric government is that it doesn’t just benefit the citizen. It’s an approach that, when done right, also makes life easier for the policy makers, front line staff, ministers and others within the government, too.

Government-as-a-platform (GaaP) means creating the necessary infrastructure of shared systems, technology and processes on which to build valuable user-focused services. The Government Digital Services (GDS) has already adopted GaaP with shared platform components such as GOV.UK Verify, GOV.UK Pay and GOV.UK Notify.

The aim of GaaP, and by extension a citizen-centric government, is to move away from the mindset of creating one solution to one problem and instead build a stack of solutions that interconnect. To aid this, GDS create templates so that things like forms are made once and can be reused. This makes services faster, easier and cheaper to design.

What does a citizen-centric government look like?

The citizen-centric government is likely to feel unfamiliar to those currently using old, disconnected systems and processes. But while moving towards citizen-centric is a big adjustment, it doesn’t mean it’s more complicated for civil servants – rather, the opposite is true.

The idea behind citizen-centric government is to simplify and hone processes, leaving people more time to use their expertise and talk to citizens. It is about reducing waste and creating a good, useful service for the people. And with the technology available today, achieving this change is getting easier.

Traditional government tends to operate like a ‘super tanker’: large monolithic projects that are difficult to change course, provide little continuous impact and are high risk. Adoption of lean, agile, user-centred product and service development methodologies enables organisations to operate more like a ‘flotilla of speed boats’: multiple smaller, agile projects that continuously deliver, are easy to change course and pose fewer risks.

Internally, a citizen-centric government is:

  • Collaborative. Frequently, government departments work in isolated silos. Traditionally defined agencies have boundaries and service creation rarely cuts across them. With a joined up, collaborative government information is freely passed between departments creating an ecosystem of shared data that brings overall value to the citizen.
  • Technology-driven. A government must assess the technology it currently has to identify what value it can still provide. While new technology is ideal, it is an additional cost to the taxpayer so optimising existing investments should be the first priority. Ultimately, citizen-centricity requires innovation and a real care for delivering better services, both of which can be found in technology.
  • Agile and responsive. It is unlikely that any big transformation will end up the way you picture it at the start. Much like the projects you work on for citizen services, it has to be responsive and adaptive to change. A truly citizen-centric government should be agile and flexible so that it can continue to adapt to the public’s needs.
  • Driven by insight. There is no room for guesswork or gut feeling in a citizen-centric government. The disconnect between public sector workers and the average population is too distant for accurate instinct, so any decisions or projects should be preceded by insight direct from the end-user. Their needs, challenges, questions and feedback should be the bedrock upon which every service is built.
  • Third-party friendly. One of the best ways to provide suitable services is by delegating work to third-party providers. The citizen is not interested in who delivers the service to them or who built the application they use; they only care that it works, that it keeps their data safe and that it makes their life easier. By using third-party contractors, governments can focus on delivering better services to their citizens in a more efficient way and often at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

Becoming a citizen-centric government

Government-wide shifts do not happen easily. Getting departments to work together takes time, hard work and an aligned vision for the future. For a government to become citizen-centric, they should follow these 10 steps:

  1. Create a strategy that connects business and IT

As with all projects, knowing your business outcomes is the first step. While individual innovations should be done on a small, iterative scale, you need a 3-5-year vision to ensure you have the budget and commitment to see through a progressive wider transformation. This vision should take into account external technology innovations that influence what the citizen expects from government as well as internal plans for service changes, and should also demonstrate how the organisation plans to deliver the vision.

  1. Focus on outcomes

The aim of a citizen-centric government is to create a useful service for the citizen. To do so, government departments must shift from a view of their internal organisation to one that focuses on the intended outcome instead.

  1. Use a digital reference architecture

Once there is a standard business approach for all services and processes, you need to map it to a standard reference architecture. This will ensure that each service is deployed in the same way, simplifying the IT architecture and creating a consistent experience for citizens.

  1. Design systems for structured and unstructured data

Data is everywhere these days: not only in structured databases but also in videos, social media and audio. Governments must adapt to new analytical techniques to create applications based on quality datasets.

  1. Publish qualitative and consistent open data

Open data for third party use must be reliable and trustworthy. To achieve this, the data has to be good quality and consistent in format, values and relationships across datasets. For example, it is no longer acceptable to have several address formats in different datasets since there are enough standard vocabularies out in the public domain to use. The government should appoint a governing body that can define and impose rules for data quality and master data.

  1. Set up a dynamic data loop

By making advanced analytics a core element of the decision process, civil servants will have all the data they need to propose a new service or optimisation to citizens – creating a much faster and less labour-intensive process.

  1. Develop horizontal services

Government departments are prone to working in silos and, consequently, storing and using data inconsistently. By developing horizontal services, much like how HR or invoice handling works, you have a unique version of the data and can provision this to departments on a need-to-know basis.

  1. Make services personalised and proactive

Every service request, evaluation and decision should be considered from the citizen’s point of view. Governments must develop an outside-in approach to service design and delivery in order to become fully citizen-centric.

  1. Apply a holistic approach to security

The security and protection of citizen data should be of paramount importance. Since data is often stored on servers connected to the internet, the threat of a leak is significant, so governments must take a holistic approach including protection, detection and response, and recovery.

  1. Standardise IT solutions under hybrid infrastructure

The old model of stable and scalable isn’t good enough. The IT environment of a citizen-centric government has to be fast and agile too. Governments need to shift to a hybrid setup that combines optimised legacy systems with third-party, cloud-based as-a-service engagements. As in step one, the key is aligning the IT goals with the intended business goals so that the IT roadmap supports and is an enabler for digital transformation and the focus remains business outcome driven.

This is a journey

Like any big change, transforming to a citizen-centric government takes time. It isn’t a single action or decision, but rather a journey, a process. It might take a while to get there, but as long as you have the citizen and strategy in sight and you continue working towards it you are on the right track.

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