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Making happen

We’re entering a new era of digital government that could transform how citizens feel about their state. Here’s what research needs to do, to make it happen.

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Making happen

  1. 1. Share this Intelligence Applied Making happen © TNS 1 Political & Social Inspiring the world’s policymakers
  2. 2. Share this Intelligence Applied 2 Making happen Digital technology has the power to transform relationships between governments and their citizens. But only if it has the right insight to guide it.
  3. 3. Share this Intelligence Applied 3 Making happen Desiree Lopez CEO of TNS BMRB Digital government has come a long way in recent years. Countries are making the move from simply providing information online to using digital as a primary engagement channel. In many cases, digital government is already providing a wider range of services online. However, the next big leap forward will involve the experience created around those services. And several governments are already leading the way here. The UAE has built on its success in developing a single point of digital contact across 39 federal departments to develop m-government applications, allowing citizens to engage with government through their mobiles. In Singapore, the government is exploring how digital can deliver a personalised experience of government services. When people can pay their taxes, apply for licenses and register for benefits through digital platforms, it doesn’t just save them time. It can also impact their perception of government, and their relationship with it. They can feel more in control – and more empowered. Both government and citizen expectations of the digital government experience are evolving. As consumers, people expect their digital experiences to be personalised and intuitive; and this influences the way they want to experience digital government as well. Simply providing a functional service may no longer be enough; government must move towards demonstrating their understanding of individuals’ needs – and building relevant digital experiences around them. When people can pay their taxes, apply for licenses and register for benefits through digital platforms, it doesn’t just save them time. It can also impact their perception of government, and their relationship with it.
  4. 4. Share this Intelligence Applied 4 Making happen This isn’t just a case of smoother online journeys. Personalised experiences for citizens have the power to transform their relationship to government from a largely transactional one (based on a few specific interactions each year) to an on-going one; a relationship that lasts a lifetime and in which government is seen as providing on-going support and value. However, such an individualised experience of government can only develop at the pace of people’s appetite for it, and governments need deep insight around the nuances of citizens’ relationships with them, in order to guide it. These are the challenges and opportunities for what has been termed (in a recent report by WPP) the era of ‘’. The future of digital government is an exciting prospect. However, its potential can only be fulfilled if the government understands the ways citizens feel about their digital government experience and how these expectations can be shaped and changed. Here are seven fundamental questions that government will need answers for, as they seek to navigate the transition to
  5. 5. Share this Intelligence Applied 5 Making happen What appetite and capabilities does the government have to engage with its citizens? Every government stands at a different stage of the digital journey. Some are still spreading the word that people can find useful information on their departmental websites. Others have already built portals that are personalised to meet individual citizens’ own needs. As both governments and citizens have different levels of openness to an on-going, personalised relationship, establishing the right form of for each national policy and audience is essential for an effective digital government strategy. Deep insight and behavioural understanding are vital to get this right. What information do individuals need from government in order to live their lives? Behavioural insight already plays a key role in understanding why and how people use different government services. The era of needs answers to a slightly broader set of questions: which information and services do people actually need to live their lives better. Governments need holistic thinking on digital that breaks down silos between departments and services, and integrates different aspects of government to suit each individual’s needs. And moving from a “citizens” to an “individual” perspective also requires a different approach to understanding the audience.
  6. 6. Share this Intelligence Applied 6 Making happen How capable and willing are citizens when it comes to using digital tools? Governments have tended to assess their population’s readiness for digital government by whether they have access to the internet, and how they are using earlier forms of digital government. In the era of, they will need to look beyond the structural aspects of digital readiness and ask about people’s appetite and aptitude for digital services they haven’t yet experienced. What type of activities are they comfortable carrying out online – and for which do they need more traditional face- to-face or over-the-phone contact during a period of transition? Answering such questions can help to reveal where the real efficiency opportunities for digital government are, whilst also highlighting where blended service offerings and offline support are still seen as an important part of the government’s duty of care. What type of activities are they comfortable carrying out online – and for which do they need more traditional face-to- face or over-the-phone contact during a period of transition?
  7. 7. Share this Intelligence Applied 7 Making happen What are people’s perceptions of the different government services they encounter – and what types of relationship do they want with them? One arm of government can generate very different emotive and cognitive responses to another. The police, the health service, and tax collection all come with their own associations and expectations where citizens are concerned. When delivering digital government as a holistic experience, as strives to do, it’s important to differentiate between these different aspects of government – and design the brand and service experiences to fit. Governments must be prepared to explore what tone and type of relationship a person may want from each, using behavioural methods to help unpick when, why and how people act. Understanding the role of different departments can also help to identify flagship areas of government that can bring the benefits of digital government to life. In the UK, for example, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) handles more than a third of all online transactions between citizens and central government. Prioritising the development of a service such as this, which touches the vast majority of people in the country, can help to change perceptions around digital government as a whole. To what extent are people open to sharing data in order to improve their experiences? Ultimately, the degree to which the experience of digital government can be personalised will also depend upon each individual’s willingness to share their personal data. This is as true of digital citizen experiences as it is of digital consumer experiences. Privacy concerns make this a sensitive area – and governments need research to help them frame the right terms for data exchange. The most appropriate approach will depend upon each country’s history and culture, general attitudes to privacy, but also perceptions of what is appropriate for different services, and the success of communications in bringing the potential benefits of data sharing to life. Governments can also plan campaigns and public engagement programmes to take this debate forward, re-shape expectations and help to build consensus.
  8. 8. Share this Intelligence Applied 8 Making happen What are the investment costs and the likely returns? Like the other phases in the digital government evolution, will require investment. Before deciding whether that investment is justified, governments need a robust framework for projecting the likely returns. More personalised digital government promises greater efficiencies in terms of service delivery. In fact, the UK Government’s Digital Efficiency Report found that online transactions can be 20 times cheaper than phone-based ones, 30 times cheaper than using the post, and 50 times cheaper than face-to-face contact. The fact that better digital government cuts costs makes the development of more intuitive and more usable services a priority for both governments and taxpayers. However, the benefits don’t end here. Citizens who are more engaged with healthcare professionals, for example, are less likely to make unhealthy choices, more likely to spot problems early, and less likely to make expensive demands on a health service in terms of care. When people pay their taxes on time, it reduces the cost of collecting them and improves financial planning in the process. When it comes to calculating the likely ROI of, governments will need to take all of these potential impacts into account whilst using behavioural methods to determine the extent to which a more personalised digital service is likely to bring them about. UK Government’s Digital Efficiency Report Online transactions 20x cheaper than phone 30x cheaper than post 50x cheaper than face- to-face
  9. 9. Share this Intelligence Applied 9 Making happen What happens if doesn’t? The transition to, like all evolutionary stories, comes with costs and opportunities. Decision-makers must evaluate the risks of not innovating to allow for deeper digital engagement with citizens. When citizen engagement is a growing concern, and when those citizens have raised expectations of their digital experiences, what risks do governments run by sticking to a transactional, one-size-fits-all approach? In the absence of greater engagement on the part of government, will other providers of information and advice emerge to fill the void? And could those alternative voices ultimately serve to undermine respect for, and trust in, the institutions of government? The move from the functional to the experiential raises the stakes when it comes to the relationship between governments and their citizens, but the refusal to do so will increasingly look like a statement of its own. Governments need deep insight to help illuminate the risks and opportunities that involves. Only through such insight can we identify the right opportunities for more personalised services, the most effective areas on which to focus investment, and the shape of more meaningful citizen experiences. In doing so, researchers can make a major contribution to re-positioning the relationship between citizens and government.
  10. 10. Share this Intelligence Applied 10 Making happen About Intelligence Applied Intelligence Applied is the home of the latest thinking from TNS, where we discuss the issues impacting our clients, explore what makes people tick and spotlight how these insights can create opportunities for business growth. Please visit for more information. About TNS TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and customer strategies, based on long established expertise and market leading solutions. With a presence in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world. TNS is part of Kantar, the data investment management division of WPP and one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Please visit for more information. Get in touch If you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via or via Twitter @tns_global About the author Desiree Lopez, CEO of TNS BMRB, has 20 years’ of international experience in social research. She specialises in mixed methods research to inform the development and evaluation of programmes and policy for public sector, private and third sector clients. To find out more about how our Political & Social experts can help guide the transformation of digital government, contact Desiree at You may be interested in... What could politics learn from brands? >