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EXCLUSIVE - Government Digital Services – the Trust Issue

Why do citizens trust Facebook and Google more than Government digital services? After all, when Google grabs your information, they do it to make money by selling it.

When a Government grabs your information it is to provide you with better services!

There is a fundamental trust issue confronting the development of digital services by Government that fundamentally affects the rates of adoption by citizens.

In a lively discussion at  Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum, the discussion on the new opportunities for digital services for Government and citizens, thoroughly explored the issues and opportunities of the new breed of citizen services.

Singapore government departments were encouraged to think about develop new digital services that are proactively alerting citizens to upcoming requirements or events.  In one example from New Zealand, the Department of Internal Affairs is sending electronic mail messages to the holders of APEC cards to alert them to the expiry of the card in 6 months. 

There is a very positive feel to services that implement systems of anticipation.  The normal citizen experience of urgent renewal and difficult bureaucratic processes is overcome.  The agency is working for the citizen not policing expiry – a positive experience grows trust.

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It is important to not overdo it though.  Overly proactive government services that feel like information is being ‘pushed’ at you can have the opposite effect.  An early alert, appropriately phrased to be helpful establishes the right tone.  A bureaucratic demand note can be counterproductive.

Often Government websites and information flows are overly technical and exact.  The legal phraseology, conditions and exceptions, written in legal jargon send the wrong message. Terms and conditions 10 pages long and no one understands the English!  Legalese destroys trust.

 Our citizens understand that Governments have coercive powers – undoubtedly that also leads to a desire to avoid contact and lowers trust.

Citizens often use social media sites, blogs, community groups and so on to pick up the necessary information they need.  They avoid the difficult government stuff.  The risk is that they don’t get the necessary information right.  Government monitoring of social media information sources can help but even better is Government provision of such ‘soft’ information.  Easily digested, easily found – the right information for the citizen at the right time.

Citizen self-education through social media is a powerful mechanism for building trust in Government services.

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