Cities around the world are joining the race to digitize public services. A trend, which has recently emerged to enable people to document and conduct major events and transactions in their lives remotely through digital platforms that bring together several government services via a single portal such as in the United States and Singapore.
When it comes to public services, what matters to citizens first is to get the service smoothly and successfully, but details on the government provider and other facts do not concern them, especially since government services are an essential part of every life detail and it will be stressful for whoever wastes their time to understand an entity's way of working.
The challenge is that these entities overlap, and most of the services that people receive are carried out through several bodies and institutions, and go through different administrative, organisational and procedural levels. For example, everyone knows that the reception of a new-born is an event that will be followed by several government procedures such as birth registration, healthcare, maternity leave and others. While these transactions are linked to a pleasant and planned event, they can be stressful, not to mention unfortunate and unplanned events, such as traffic accidents, loss of employment, falling victim to crime or losing a family member, as relatives of the deceased in a country such as the United Kingdom may have to conduct government transactions in 44 institutions.
Complexities may create barriers between citizens and authorities, make governance mechanisms stressful, time-consuming, public and private money draining, and dehumanize government service. A survey targeting North America, Europe and Asia Pacific found that 39% of respondents wished for increased digital interaction with their respective governments, while 53% expressed frustration accessing public services.
To overcome these challenges and complexities, new governance concepts and the collaboration of several entities are needed to plan, finance, implement and provide safe and reliable data-sharing techniques.
In the US state of New York, the government, in cooperation with several agencies, launched the MyCity Portal, after months of collecting approvals from the federal government. For 15 months, work continued to build a new and comprehensive concept of the city's services to better meet the needs of the population.
The portal will be a central data repository for all government agencies, and the first phase will provide child care subsidies, where families who need help paying for child care can apply in one place, with one application. Phase two of the MyCity portal will focus on assisting job seekers and small business owners. The portal will be accessible via smartphones or computers, and will offer a one-stop shop for city services and benefits. It is designed to serve locals and foreigners with an interface available in 10 common languages.
LifeSG is one of the Strategic National Projects under Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives. Aimed at providing a suite of services to support citizens’ needs at key junctures by integrating and bundling services across government agencies. It was first made available as a mobile application to support families with young children below six years old. Since then, the app has progressively added new features to serve citizens in other aspects of their life journey. These include an Active Ageing module for seniors aged 60 and above, and an Employment Support Guide for job-seekers.
Citizens can explore and easily access more than 70 government services. Information displayed is grouped according to topics of interest, such as family and parenting, work and employment, healthcare, housing and property, and other frequently-used digital services. More services will be added progressively.
A ‘step-by-step’ view of performing ‘tasks’ to help guide users through the process of a government transaction. The Inbox serves as a consolidated touchpoint for users to be notified of announcements, and follow-up on key tasks at certain stages of a transaction. The Appointment feature allows users to get reminders for upcoming appointments or events signed up through LifeSG.
In the United Kingdom, the government has launched a programme called “Tell Us Once”, which is concerned with government transactions that include a death situation, so that any British citizen who is grieving a family member can notify the platform once, so that notifications are automatically sent to the tax authorities, passport office, local governments, insurance companies and all concerned parties.
However, these initiatives face many challenges, such as incompatibility with government entities' objectives and differing data standards adopted in each of them, requiring precise definition of roles and alignment of objectives, as well as the adoption of smooth systems and common data standards. Regulations can also impede data sharing and restrict accountability and governance tools, which requires genuine political will.
Finally, these portals need the trust of citizens who will entrust their critical information among institutions that will share the data, resources and technology. The absence of such trust will pose a major challenge to any endeavour of this kind, and there is no solution except to build awareness among citizens and establish solid protocols on which true partnerships between state institutions are based.
The New York MyCity Portal facilitates residents' access to information and support from various government entities, thus contributing to the reduction of bureaucracy and red tape in government services.
The British “Tell Us Once” and its Singaporean counterpart relieve individuals of the burden of monotonous procedures in the defining happy or sad events in their lives, thus achieving the essence of government service that helps people to live a healthy human life.