2 Seamless services and a user-centric focus
Public services shall be perceived as seamless and integrated by the users, regardless of which government agency provides them. Municipalities, county authorities and central government agencies must cooperate across administrative levels and sectors in order to achieve this ambition. Users are defined as citizens, the voluntary sector, and public and private enterprises.
A user-centric focus is one of five key priorities in the Digital Agenda for Norway. The goal is for users to perceive their interaction with the public sector as seamless and efficient, as one digital public sector.
Kantar survey: The Digital Citizen
To strengthen the knowledge base on what digital life will mean for the average citizen, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation commissioned Kantar TNS to conduct a qualitative study. 3 The report points out that many people would like interaction with the public sector that is fast, efficient and frictionless, as well as seamless digital communication between government agencies, among other things. Challenges in using digital services are often due more to a lack of understanding of public administration and regulations than to a lack of digital competence. The study also emphasises the need to facilitate integration and seamlessness in the digital services offered to individual citizens. In general, users consider public digital services to be a resource; they save time, increase availability and are environmentally friendly. Many people also highlight chat services as a useful option.
Where are we?
Today users often have to use with multiple services from different agencies to have their needs met or to perform tasks. Users often have to visit multiple websites to obtain information and complete digital services. The extent to which government agencies view services in a broader context and familiarise themselves with users’ needs varies considerably. IT in Practice for 2019 shows that digitalisation is increasing in the public sector, but is stagnating in terms of developing advanced digital services for users. 4 Other surveys show that the user experience is fragmented and that the services are not very seamless. 5 This particularly applies to services provided across sectors and administrative levels. The users desire more seamless digital services, even for matters that involve multiple agencies. 6
A user perspective of digitalisation of the public sector
Sentio Research Norway conducted a quantitative survey of digitalisation of public services from a user perspective on behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation.
The survey was aimed at users in the population and in the business sector. The population is most familiar with the services from the Norwegian Tax Administration/Altinn and Health Norway. Business owners are most familiar with the services providing certificates of registration and tax certificates.
A total of 58 per cent of the population and 64 per cent of business owners responded that they were satisfied with the public digital services.
In the population, 30 per cent responded that they believed that digitalisation should increase, 44 per cent that the current level was sufficient, and 13 per cent that digitalisation had gone too far. Among business owners, 41 per cent responded that digitalisation should increase, 47 per cent that the current level was sufficient, and 9 per cent that digitalisation had gone too far. A total of 49 per cent of the population responded that their expectations for digital services from the public sector are influenced by the digitalisation of services in the private sector. The figures below from the Sentio survey illustrate business owners’ awareness of public digital services, and citizens’ awareness of digital services from the Norwegian Tax Administration/Altinn.
Sentio survey: Business owners’ awareness of public digital services.
Figur 2.1 Business owners’ awareness of public digital services
Sentio survey: Awareness of digital services, by percentage of the population
Figur 2.2 Percentage of the population that is aware of or has used digital services from the Norwegian Tax Administration/Altinn (n=1005)
Services related to childbirth, wedding ceremonies and marriage, change of address in the table «Knowledge of digital services, by percentage of the population» are based on the National Population Register in the Norwegian Tax Administration. The Norwegian Tax Administration is modernising the National Population Register and several of the services are being digitalised in cooperation with other authorities. For example, citizens currently notify both the Norwegian Tax Administration and Norway Post of changes of address. In the new service, they can do this in a single process whereby notifications are sent to both the Norwegian Tax Administration and Norway Post.
In some sectors, initiatives are already underway to develop seamless services across administrative levels and sectors. Some examples of this are DigiHelse (DigiHealth) and DigiSos (DigiSocial), which are joint initiatives in the local government sector that have been developed in cooperation with central government agencies. However, there is a need for a more systematic focus on developing seamless services across sectors and administrative levels.
Users of home-based services can easily and safely contact the health services in their municipality at helsenorge.no. They can send and receive messages, view appointments, and receive notifications about home visits completed. The initiative shall ensure a uniform service offering to citizens. DigiHelse (DigiHealth) is a collaborative initiative between the local government sector and the Norwegian Directorate of eHealth.
DigiSos (DigiSocial) is a collaborative project between the local government sector and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). The project develops digital services for social assistance recipients at nav.no. The first service to be developed is a digital application for financial assistance with a digital guide. In addition, it provides functionality for viewing applications and their status on the Mitt NAV (My NAV) website.
A seamless service is not necessarily a single service or process. The goal is to develop solutions so that when private individuals are logged in on a local government, county or central government solution or website, relevant information, messages and services from other government agencies are made available at the same time. Users shall have easy access to their data, relevant information and help. This can be accomplished by systematically facilitating information in such a way that users can access data about themselves in different contexts during their dialogue with the public sector. This does not require new central portals, but it may entail development of functionality that can be included in public solutions. For example, this could be a «virtual assistant» giving users access to data and services that are relevant to them, regardless of which website or solution is used. Such functionality may also be relevant to the business and voluntary sectors. Several other countries are in the process of establishing such user-centric solutions.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant helps ensure that public information and services are perceived as seamless to the user. It serves as a filter showing relevant and individually adapted information when the citizen is logged in on public websites.
The aim of using a virtual assistant is that citizens who, for example, are applying to their municipality for care benefit, will be shown a link to relevant information the central or local government has on the individual in question, relevant services from NAV and other government agencies, and, for example, a link to a message box where relevant decisions are stored. Such an assistant could be made available to citizens regardless of which public website or service they are logged into. In other words, the information will follow individual citizens rather than the current system, where citizens have to know most things in advance, both who provides a service and how they can access it. Privacy considerations will be of decisive importance in developing such functionality.
Use of virtual assistants in Australia and Estonia
Australia and Estonia are currently developing personalised and seamless services tailored to individual users that focus on access to and transparency of data and decisions. Estonia is building a virtual assistant on top of the services, to guide citizens in their interaction with the public sector. Estonia calls this a «human-centric data governance structure». The Australian authorities have also introduced something they call a virtual assistant, providing citizens with a simpler way to solve their problems. In both examples, information the authorities have on the citizen is used to adapt smart services to individual needs, regardless of how they are organised.
Life events as a starting point for seamless services
Important situations and life events for the users shall form the basis for developing seamless services. Basing services on life events provides a user-centric focus. Regardless of sector or administrative level, life events shall therefore form the basis for developing seamless services. The life events approach originates in the EU, which benchmarks Norway based on a number of life events to measure the level of digitalisation of the public sector. 7
The strategy highlights seven life events for which development of seamless services shall initially be prioritised. However, this shall not prevent development of other seamless services. The life events selected relate to important situations that affect almost everyone during their lifetime, such as births, deaths and inheritance. Situations have also been selected where a more seamless process would simplify citizens’ difficult everyday life situations, such as caring a seriously ill child, losing or finding a job, and being new in Norway. Seamless services in connection with starting and managing a business or a voluntary organisation will simplify everyday life for the business and voluntary sectors, respectively. A service related to educational choices could be linked to several of these life events, such as losing or finding a job. The decision to use life events also supports the Government’s National Inclusion Initiative, which was launched in 2018 with the goal of helping more people enter the labour market.
Experience from development of seamless services in the public sector shows that incentives are lacking for cooperating and developing services across sectors and administrative levels. Users often have complex needs that require collaboration and cooperation between agencies. The sector-based organisation of government agencies largely entails vertical financing, management and reporting. As a result, agencies are not adequately measured or rewarded for cross-sectoral cooperation. Moreover, conflicting considerations may emerge when digital services are being developed, such as between user centricity and efficiency. Investing in seamless services when the benefits are realised outside of an actor’s own agency or administrative level requires binding cooperation between the actors.
How should we proceed in creating more seamless services?
Creating seamless services is a challenging exercise that involves a number of actors. The central and local government sectors must cooperate to achieve a broad understanding of problems and user insights when seamless services are to be developed. It is important that one actor take the initiative and involve sectoral ministries, the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities and other relevant partners in mapping needs and developing a seamless service. Together, the actors and users must define the initiatives and projects to be implemented in order to realise the service. Among other things, this may entail a review of regulations, organisation and opportunities for digital collaboration. For example, in connection with the event «start and manage a business», the local government sector could serve as the starting point for planning the work.
The work on seamless services should, as far as possible, build on existing and ongoing initiatives. A basic prerequisite for achieving seamless services is an overview of what data is available and where and how the data can be shared. The directory services under the National Data Directory 8 shall be further developed and used in developing seamless services.
The public sector shall facilitate equal participation in society for all citizens, regardless of functional ability or life situation. One key success factor in this regard is that the services offered be universally designed. Another is the public sector’s use of plain language in its communication and interaction with users. This also applies to the development of seamless services. The strategy period lasts until 2025. By then, the actors should be well underway with all the projects, and should have completed some of them.
More knowledge is needed on how services should be viewed in the context of life events, including when services cut across the purview of different administrative levels. New insights should be used to coordinate the responsible actors to develop seamless and coherent services. Laws and regulations, including definitions of concepts, are currently harmonised only to a limited extent between the various service areas. This makes it difficult to share and reuse data, which is an important prerequisite for developing seamless digital services. Another challenge is the lack of methodologies for cooperation and cross-sectoral development of services. In particular, there is a lack of methodology for organising and managing projects that entail binding collaboration between central government agencies within various specialist sectors and across central and local government sectors. The public sector also lacks models for cost sharing and for calculating and realising benefits when multiple agencies cooperate, as well as incentive mechanisms for working across sectors and administrative levels. Systematised experiences gained from working on seamless services would form the basis for developing future seamless services and other cross-sectoral development initiatives.
The new Directorate of Digitalisation shall monitor the work done on seamless services by, for example, developing methodologies and gathering knowledge. The Directorate shall also specifically assist the responsible ministries with operationalising and organising the initiatives when when needed and requested. This can be done through, for example, policy instruments such as the Co-financing Mechanism, the Digitalisation Council and the Stimulation Scheme for Innovation and Service Design (StimuLab). This work will be carried out in cooperation with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, which will be responsible for anchoring initiatives in the local government sector’s collaborative governance arenas for digitalisation and for involving the local government sector in the work. Many of the largest municipalities and county authorities have resourceful centres of expertise that can contribute to this work, but good examples of service innovation by means of technology can also found in smaller municipalities.
The Government will:
- Initially prioritise the development of seamless services for the following life events:
- Having children (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs)
- Having a seriously ill child (Ministry of Health and Care Services)
- Losing and finding a job (Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs)
- New in Norway (Ministry of Education and Integration)
- Death and inheritance (Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation)
- Starting and managing a voluntary organisation (Ministry of Culture and Equality)
- Starting and managing a business (Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries)
- In cooperation with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, develop methods for and gather knowledge on user orientation, organisation and coordination with a view to developing and operating seamless services across sectors and administrative levels
- In cooperation with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, develop common principles for good usability of digital services
- In cooperation with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, consider concepts for realising a citizen-oriented solution, such as a virtual assistant, for easy access to citizens’ own data, information and personalised services