GovTech Trends: 2023

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Written by Harold de Neef, Group Director, Product & Innovation, Civica

2022 brought several new challenges that impacted our daily lives. Civica’s Harold de Neef shares seven key trends to help public services prepare and adapt to these challenges in the year ahead and beyond.

As we moved through 2022, many of us expected to return to a ‘new normal’. Yet the conflict in Ukraine, soaring energy prices, and the cost of living replaced the pandemic as the primary focus for both citizens and public services. It has been a period of uncertainty and hardship, but history has shown that, in tough times, innovation thrives. And we believe it’s our innovative spirit that will be essential to adapt and improve lives.

Right now, many of us have switched to survival mode. But this hasn’t decreased people’s expectation of on-demand availability and personalised public services. Indeed, smartphones are at the centre of how we interact, get informed and consume. We believe that the influence of connected devices’ will increase, and if used to their full potential, deliver better outcomes for all. The continued squeeze on public sector budgets will also see wider adoption of assistive technologies and better use of data – the gateway to smarter services. It will also mean more sharing of resources, services and data between different areas of the public sector as well as with the private sector: working together we can achieve so much more for citizens.

In the workplace, most of us are now operating in a hybrid model. And as we spend more time at home, social media has taken a bigger share of how we interact with others, or even impacted on how we think. Alongside these changes, sustainability is a topic that will continue to be front of mind, partly supported by the rising cost of energy. On the flip side, the risk of greenwashing has become more apparent, especially as people and organisations might need to trade off sustainability choices against the cost of living.

In this new world, we have switched to survival mode. Charles Darwin taught us the most important factor in survival is neither intelligence nor strength, but adaptability. We have a great opportunity to rethink how we work, live and protect our planet. 2023 and the years beyond are likely to be turbulent: a time when we will set expectations and assumptions of our future way of life. As we look forward, we have outlined the seven trends that we feel will shape our immediate future.

1. Survival mode switch ‘on’

This year, UK inflation reached levels not seen in 40 years. With spiralling living costs around the world, the UN confirmed that 71 million people have been pushed into poverty. We have moved into survival mode

Public service organisations will have to focus on supporting those most vulnerable, while also combating their own rising costs and reducing budgets. So, more efforts are needed to drive productivity. Indeed, we don’t believe it is sustainable to continuously do more with less, so greater adaptability and more technology-enabled innovation will be paramount. More can be done with what is available, whether through better use of assistive technologies or modernising existing applications. Public services will also need to look at increasing self-service, reducing red tape, and improving data sharing and interoperability to drive better insight and faster actions. Finally, in the spirit of ‘the total is more than the sum of the parts’, we expect more public services organisations will partner and collaborate to create scale.

2. On-demand living

A trend we highlighted last year, we believe people’s expectation of personalised services has increased. It is now the norm in the consumer space, and we expect the same round the clock self-service and a personalised approach in how we interact with public services. This will require more data and system sharing between public service organisations.

Done well, personalisation offers great opportunities to improve the citizen experience and technology will be paramount in making this possible in a safe, secure, and transparent way. Personalisation, by essence, requires some form of identification to verify and offer a tailored approach, so identity management technologies will become increasingly relevant in 2023.

3. Insight into greater actions

The public sector has access to enormous amounts of valuable data. Yet, often, this data is not used to its full potential. Real-term budget cuts are a reality, and we don’t believe it’s sustainable or fair to expect nurses, teachers or civil servants to work harder to cover for the decrease in funds. We keep true to our belief that civil servants should be able to prioritise their time where human interaction is most needed. How can we help? Unlocking the value of data is one key area.

Data can, and needs to be, turned into actionable insights, starting where automation can deliver better and faster results than humans can. While the desire is there to do more, one of the main barriers to overcome is poor levels of data sharing and interoperability between systems and organisations. Moreover, we need to focus more on the predictive value of data as prevention is both cheaper and less painful than cure. Higher priority should be given to improving our standards, skills and sharing of this vital resource. Harnessing data’s true value will be key to delivering better public services.

4. To trust or not to trust

Many of us share personal information with Uber, JustEat, Google or our bank. We accept and trust them with our data, and in return get access to valuable services that make our lives easier. But here lies the crux: without our data, these companies cannot deliver these smart services. In other words, trusting an organisation with your data helps them deliver better services to you. But when it comes to public services, the same level of trust is not always there.

As published in the ONS, only 35% of the UK population trust their government. It’s a figure that varies across the world. 61% of Australian citizens trust their public services, while in USA the figure plumets to 20%.

To counter this fear, the public sector needs to better explain why they need our data, how it will be used, that it is secure, and clearly explain the value we will get in return.

5. COPing with green

Social consciousness around climate change has been on the rise for years. Recently, the cost of fuel and energy has increased people’s willingness to be more environmentally conscious. Most governments have made carbon neutrality commitments (e.g. Paris agreements, COP) and many public sector organisations have made their own. So, change is expected.

With every commitment, comes a plan. Yet, many organisations do not know how to calculate the extent of their carbon footprint, or other environmental impacts, let alone make a credible plan to neutrality. To add to the complexity, citizens are more sensitive to greenwashing and vague commitments. The sector needs to build on initial progress and start converting their ideas into green actions.

6. Social altering democracy

Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter have changed how we interact with each other, consume media, are entertained or informed. There’s no denying that social media has impacted political engagement. It has been a key channel to reach new demographics, especially younger people. But it has also increased polarisation, populism, and distrust in institutions. From the Arab Spring to the US Capitol riots, or even elections and referendums, social platforms have played a significant role in shaping civic opinion. In times of crisis, it can also disseminate key information across wide groups very quickly, as we saw during the recent pandemic.

We believe that social media’s influence on our democracy and public institutions will continue to grow. It will be important for public sector organisations to not only be more present on these platforms, but also take the lead to ensure they are safe and add more value to everyone in our society.

7. Redefining our working patterns

Many of us now share our professional lives between home and the workplace. We don’t expect a massive return to the workplace to happen this year or the next. Office days are more focused on interaction, meetings and workshops which impacts both usage and layout of facilities. And, for many organisations, this has also meant offices are less busy and begs the question of what to do with the available space.

As we spend more time at home, social media is likely to have an increasing impact on how we interact with others. It also gets us wondering if Web3 will become a relevant part of our lives or just the latest buzzword. As we continue to adapt to this hybrid world, the sector needs to balance working flexibility with the rising cybersecurity threats of remote working. More thinking is needed to rethink and reuse office spaces, while continuing to improve the digital infrastructures to connect the hybrid worker.

As we share our seven trends for the year ahead, one area we need to pay close attention to is the risk of a bigger digital divide. Whether linked to finance, digital literacy, disability, or data infrastructure, it’s a topic that we all can and should work together to address. Our NorthStar lab will spend more time and effort trying to understand digital inclusion especially for the most vulnerable.

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