Citizen Engagement – Meeting Needs and Delivering Tangible Benefits

Written by Katie Bease, Marketing Executive at Sopra

On Friday November 7th delegates from across Northern Ireland gathered in Belfast for the inaugural meeting of the newly launched Digital Leaders Northern Ireland (DLNI).

Chaired by Robin Knowles, Digital Leaders founder,  the first salon looked at Citizen Engagement, focusing on how to ensure the services we deliver meet (and exceed) the needs of the new digital citizen.  The salon welcomed a good cross-section of attendees from across central government and the private sector, all enthusiastic about the topic and ready for a lively debate.

First lead discussant to take the floor was Caron Alexander, Director of Digital Services at Enterprise Shared Services for the Northern Ireland Government.   Caron is passionate about giving citizens access when, where and how they wish and feels that for true digital transformation the citizen has to be at the centre.  She believes that the public are ready for change however to satisfy the public, Government will have to make difficult decisions.

From the floor we heard an example this in practice.  Gone are the days of Motorists having to tax their vehicles at Driver and Vehicle Agency buildings, as they can now tax or register their vehicles online, offering a digital service.  This is an example of delivering services that citizens want however it led to political anger and protests when announced.

The second lead discussant was Tom McCann, Head of Central Government at Sopra. Tom is also a happier motorist who taxed his car online, from home, at a time of his choice in a matter of minutes.  Tom leads teams involved in digital delivery and shared how digital transformation is delivering a number of benefits for his customers.  He agrees that the citizen has to be at the centre and when digital services are being designed, the design should be driven by the user experience and not by technology and as a result increases customer satisfaction.

This sparked debate around how the NI Government can engage better with their Citizens.  If the citizen defines the system then we need them to be at the core of the projects.  By engaging with the citizen throughout the process we can potentially avoid big failures, thus increasing citizen satisfaction.  The issue needs to be addressed at grass root level.  It was discussed that some organisations have a big journey before they can even say who the citizen is; views need to change as they re-evaluate who the real end user is.

The question that kept coming back to the floor was ‘How do you involve the citizen in the process?’ Many examples were shared from the floor, such as how the NI libraries help promote digital inclusion with free computer sessions available in libraries but the majority of examples were related to Digital Delivery outside Northern Ireland.  So how do we celebrate and share our successes in Northern Ireland?  One attendee suggested that there is a fear associated with digital changes but through training, and by using people that the citizen wants to work with, this fear can be reduced.  A connection ‘on the ground’ is essential to engage with the citizen and community, closing the gap to digital inclusion.

The discussion then moved on to ‘internal change’. How do we change the rules? How do procurement rules restrict digital transformation? Can suppliers challenge businesses on their ‘readiness’ during the tendering process? It was agreed that our role is to support change; we should be attacking procurement policy and pushing for change.

Robin went on to open a new topic to the floor. Open Data: Is open data the key to unlocking creativity for start-up and small companies? Is open data is exciting?

The general view point was that for the potential to be seized, data needs to be unlocked especially public data.  When Government open and share public data this will allow for better decision making within Government which in turn will benefit the citizen.  DLNI are looking forward to getting their hands on the open data strategy for Northern Ireland which will be released early in the New Year.

The salon was closed with final thoughts from our lead discussants.  The main issues voiced were:

  • We are good at digital inclusion but what about the people who are not included what and how will we deliver to them? Bold decisions need to be made.
  • We need to know who our end customer is.
  • There has to be more than the exemplars – we need visibility on digital action plans.
  • Education, Health and local governments need to be involved.
  • Digital transformation is not a 2 year programme. Government need to start doing things digital.
  • And finally – Small is beautiful.


By Katie Bease, Marketing Executive at Sopra and Marguerite Clarke, Account Manager at Sopra

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