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The importance of putting “people” at the heart of innovation – governments should empower their citizens in this digital world

Modern technology has initiated pronounced changes in myriad sectors, including finance and banking, property and retail. Naturally, there is pressure for governments and related agencies to stay ahead and empower citizens to take advantage of this revolution. “Smart government” is no longer just a buzzword used in White Papers and political debate and, instead, is now accepted as necessary to address economic challenges and improve the lives of everyday citizens. However, in the midst of delivering breakthrough innovations and driving a digital narrative, governments must not lose sight of the purpose of these innovations, which is to empower citizens and improve quality of life

A report by Accenture revealed that there is a gap between what citizens want from a digital government and the services that are currently available. Therefore, it is imperative for governments to introduce sound strategies to improve citizen services, streamline their functions, and ultimately close the gap between what citizens expect and what is being delivered. In essence, policy makers must ensure that the well-being of citizens is at the centre of their smart nation transitions.

Facilitate easier access to the Internet

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 9 is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. It is true that digital transformation cannot happen without a robust infrastructure. By scaling up public access to the Internet, everyone can enjoy the benefits of connectivity. For example, governments can set up more free WiFi-zones or provide subsidised mobile data for low-income families. Having said that, creating more access points to the Internet is not the end-all solution for digital exclusion. Governments must promote greater digital literacy amongst its citizens too.

Help citizens navigate the digital world

Enabling citizens to leverage the Internet and equipping them with core skills to stay relevant in the digital economy is equally as important as providing access to the Internet. In fact, re-skilling and up-skilling its citizens has been a key focus for the Singapore government to ensure that professionals here remain globally competitive. For example, Singapore’s Digital Proficiency Program helps achieve that goal by providing a framework to acquire and develop digital skills (from foundation to advanced skills); and provides a roadmap towards continuous learning. Raising awareness of and supporting these education programmes will drive greater digital adoption and innovation.

Innovate with the intended audience in mind  

Leaders need to know how to leverage technology to innovate, fail fast and drive value in society, while navigating a volatile and uncertain digital environment. Policy makers and administrators need to embrace the “entrepreneur DNA” and take calculated risks that will eventually lead to unconventional and innovative solutions that can meet the needs of the public. Considering that citizens are mobile-optimised, it makes sense to leverage on this platform. Take the myResponder App as an example - a collaboration between the Singapore Civil Defence Force and then Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) to save lives and increase the survival rate for Out-of-Hospital Cardiac arrest. Another example is the Healthy 365 App which relies on data analytics to track and monitor a person’s health.

Conclusion

While governments around the world are beginning to embrace technologies to sustain and improve their citizen services, it is important for us to examine the real impacts these innovations are bringing to the table. Governments and their related agencies must continue to create more opportunities for citizens to be connected. There must be ample platforms for citizens to learn and to align their skillset with the demands of a new digital economy. Finally, governments need to innovate fearlessly and take calculated risks when necessary. In this way, they can ensure that no citizen is left behind in the pursuit of a new digital world.  

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