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Article August 31st, 2023

by Nortal

Proactive public services in Austria, Estonia, and New Zealand – what have we learned?

In theory, proactive public services promise societal transformation, leading to an improvement in the human condition while saving billions of government dollars. In practice, things can be a little more complex. Many governments around the world have begun to experiment with increasing proactivity when it comes to their public services, but there are still relatively few working examples. Building PPS has proven to be highly complex: it requires substantial investment, changes in mental models, and continued political support.

That said, several countries have successfully built proactive public services in the past decade. Here we take a look at a few examples of how countries have navigated building PPS and what lessons can be drawn from these efforts.

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Austria’s social benefit for families

Austria was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a PPS. The first service the government chose to redesign as a PPS was social benefit for families following the birth of a child. The “applicationless” family allowance was introduced in May 2015 to ease parents’ burden of applying for this benefit with various agencies. The service minimizes user touch points by consolidating the involved agencies into a single point of contact.

When a child is born, their data and the parents’ civil status is recorded, processed by the Central Civil Status Registry, and sent to the tax administration. The tax administration verifies that the family meets the criteria, and sends them a letter notifying the family of their entitlement to the allowance. Simultaneously, the allowance will be transferred to the parents’ account.

The Austrian government believes that this innovation in family allowance has significantly streamlined the process for families. The new system reduces bureaucracy by eliminating the need to go through multiple authorities and allows quicker payment of the benefit.

Estonia’s ambition to scaling out proactive public services

Estonia is internationally recognized as a front-runner in digital government capabilities and innovations. However, there is only one truly proactive public service functioning in Estonia today – family allowance to new parents, similar to Austria’s program described above.

The development and implementation of PPS is viewed as a core component of building a next-generation digital government in Estonia. In support of the country’s ambitions, the transition to proactive and event-based services was made a top priority in its most recent development agenda. Research has been conducted to identify more services that could be made proactive, with a recent doctoral thesis identifying how many components PPS may require across several stakeholder groups. A proactive service revolving around birth, for example, would require 34 components, military conscription 57 components, death 38 components, and owning a car 26 components.

To manage this complexity, new technical architectures, legal and technical standards, business processes, and organizational best practices are needed. Such system-wide transformation, making proactivity the default rather than the exception, is a requirement to fully benefit from a new system built on proactive public services.

New Zealand’s government-wide transformation to emphasize “a spirit of service to the community”

New Zealand’s government has committed to reforming the public sector in order to develop digitally “integrated” or “federated” public services. This was reinforced in the government’s “2020 strategy for a Digital Public Service” where it was argued that “when someone is required to deal with government, their need is often greater than can be met by a single agency. They may require services from multiple government (and sometimes non-government) organizations, and this can be difficult, especially for vulnerable people or people with accessibility needs.”

Today, New Zealand has two clear examples of PPS. The most famous one being its SmartStart service. SmartStart was launched in 2016 as the first integrated service in New Zealand, requiring integration and cooperation between four organizations: the Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Social Development, Inland Revenue Department, and Ministry of Health. The service provides access to all relevant government services related to giving birth and raising a child (55 in total). To enable data sharing between organizations and facilitate integrated service delivery, a memorandum of understanding was signed that laid out the necessary data, how it would be shared, and how the data could or could not be stored.

The SmartStart service engaged many users, decreased costs, and has been deemed a success both internally and internationally, often being cited as being a great “best practice” cases to study when evaluating the prospects of PPS.

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Proactive public services – the new standard for digital governments

Several countries successfully built proactive public services in the 2010s. All of these countries provide an advanced level of digital public services, yet building such services proved to be a new challenge for all of them.

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