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White Paper

Proactive Public Services – the new standard for digital governments

Following the first wave of public sector digitization that focused on making services accessible online, governments are seeking to increasingly automate public services, so that they require as little interaction from users and service providers as possible. Proactive public services represent the pinnacle of this new wave of digital public services. In their most sophisticated form, these digital public services can be designed entirely without user interaction, offering unparalleled frictionless access to public services.

This white paper aims to help those who wish to understand, and potentially develop, proactive public services. It discusses the concept of proactive public services as the next phase of digitization in the public sector. The paper showcases examples from Austria, Estonia, and New Zealand, where proactive public services of differing levels of sophistication have been developed, implemented, and trialed for several years. Drawing on these cases, the paper presents new insights and lessons learned, identifies the core building blocks for developing proactive public services, and concludes by offering recommendations on how to successfully transition to a more proactive public sector.

 

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User-friendly government services

With minimal user interaction required, Proactive public services are at the cutting-edge of service design by being as user-friendly as possible. Yet, their potential to increase the effectiveness of policies underlying public services is even more remarkable. Redesigning public services into proactive public services extends their reach by making it unnecessary for potential users to even be aware of them or must apply for them. This may especially benefit the most socially disadvantaged groups in society, who often already have the hardest journey for obtaining government services.

Wide-scale introduction of proactive public services may therefore even contribute to a more socially just and equitable society. Implementing proactive public services at scale requires organizational capabilities, stakeholder management, and evaluating each public service’s potential for proactive delivery. Governments need to raise awareness, build necessary foundations, and develop capabilities to successfully implement proactive public services.

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Improved service delivery efficiency

At the same time, proactive public services can help push the boundaries of automation in the delivery of public services as governments face mounting pressure to harness digitization to improve service delivery efficiency. Proactive public services can help governments fulfill citizens’ increasing expectations that digital public services be provided with the same user friendliness as private sector digital services. It also has the potential to reduce costs and required personnel, freeing up public funds to tackle the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change, and mitigating the impact of increasing labor shortages in the public sector, which confront many developed countries.

Proactive public services are part of a wider transformation towards proactive government that delivers users public services without waiting for formal requests. It implies a capacity to anticipate societal and economic developments, as well as users’ needs, by capturing real-time information and applying it to re-design services.

Some of the most digitally advanced nations in the world have begun the path towards proactive government by successfully implementing the first proactive public services. However, even the most digitally advanced nations have only been able to implement a small number of proactive public services to date. Their experience shows that building these services is significantly more complex than other types of digital public services. Creating sophisticated proactive public services requires a strong foundation of environmental, technical, and organizational building blocks.

This includes a supportive regulatory environment that enables the inter-agency exchange of personal data, a requirement to implement many advanced proactive public services. A high level of trust in the public sector is also essential to create a desire to experiment with and transition to this mode of digital public services and ensure continuous support for it.

Proactive public services aim to automate public services to minimize user and service provider interaction, providing frictionless access to government services. This approach not only enhances user-friendliness but also has the potential to increase policy effectiveness and promote social equity.

Solid technical foundation

Digital identity ecosystem

A functioning digital identity ecosystem to allow users to securely access proactive public services that require interaction.

Up-to-date data

Accurate, up-to-date data to provide the service reliably and efficiently to as many eligible users as possible.

Secure data exchange

The ability to exchange personal data securely and efficiently within all areas of a public administration, and ideally the health and private sectors.

Electronic messaging

Secure and legally binding electronic messaging between the public sector, citizens, and businesses.

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Transforming into a proactive government requires comprehensive preparation

The complexity of implementing proactive public services at scale is nothing short of a stress test for public administrations’ organizational capabilities. Re-designing digital public services from a reactive to a proactive approach demands an in-depth understanding of the processes and organizations involved, as well as the ability and mindset to completely re-think them. Implementing proactive public services will often drastically increase the complexity of stakeholder management as it often requires cooperation between several government agencies. These foundational factors combined with the individual characteristics of each public service determine whether a public service can be re-designed as a proactive public service, and how far its delivery can be automated.

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Building the necessary foundation and capabilities

To start implementing proactive public services, public administrations must understand its possibilities and evaluate the potential for each public service. This white paper’s accompanying materials offer guidance on how to evaluate public services’ potential to be delivered as a proactive public service. A set of guiding questions is published to help interested public service providers evaluate individual public services regarding their suitability to be delivered proactively.

Due to this transformation’s wide-ranging implications, it will require politicians, civil service leaders and the public’s continuous support. Thus, a first step must be to raise awareness of proactive government’s potential, as well as realistic expectations of the time and effort needed for this transformation.

Experimenting and implementing less sophisticated types of proactive public services, such as proactive information, may be useful to gain experience and raise awareness, even for governments that lack the right foundation. However, a full-scale transformation to proactive government is unlikely to succeed without a solid foundation of technical building blocks and the right public administration capabilities.

 

Providing proactive public services must become a question of “how” and “when” – not “if”. This will require public sector organizations to develop new capabilities and understandings on how services should be designed proactively. Without this, they will face many challenges – some of which may be insurmountable.

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Learn what it takes to provide frictionless access to government services.

 

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