Voices from Accenture Public Service

Trust in government (or lack thereof) is an issue we consistently hear about and observe through popular media and our social interactions. The decline in trust and confidence in public institutions can be linked to the decline in civic engagement,[i] and it’s impacting initiatives to improve social outcomes.

During a recent executive roundtable attended by a range of industry experts, active citizenship emerged as a prominent theme.

What is “active citizenship”?

The European Economic and Social Committee summarises it nicely:

“Active citizenship is a broad concept, hard to define, and yet crucial to the welfare of society and its members. Many people, when asked, will say it is about ‘giving something back,’ about recognising that we are all mutually dependent and that by making a positive contribution to the direction society takes, we are helping ourselves as well as society.”[ii]

Why should we care?

“Because the clients of government services are never ‘just’ clients, as they might be in the private sector. They are not just consumers of government services: they are usually also taxpayers and citizens, that is, bearers of rights and duties in a framework of democratic community, with civic and public interests that go well beyond their service needs.”[iii]

We all have a stake in our democratic society and yet, our declining trust in government impacts our desire to be active citizens. As we become a more digital society, there is more opportunity for active citizenship in sharing personal data for the common good.

For example, you visit the doctor with an uncommon condition. To get a correct diagnosis and treatment, you assume the doctor knows of your condition, and you’re probably willing to share specific information regarding your case so the doctor can build knowledge to help future patients.

We’re also happy to share our fingerprints with Apple, what we did on the weekend with Facebook and our every location with Google Maps. We see the value of sharing our data – convenience and enhanced experiences. We even put up with slightly creepy personalised pop-up ads that prove these corporations track our internet browsing and demographic data and assume they are protecting our data. However, we’re uneasy about sharing personal data with government agencies to address social problems.

Using the principles of the Goldilocks Zone, insight from digital data can provide significant societal benefits, especially when aimed at social problems. But without addressing the growing trust deficit in government, we cannot expect citizens to provide their personal data. The value and risks of data-sharing must be clear, and data use needs to be transparent, ethical and non-coercive.

Trust takes time to build but can be lost in a moment. To keep social protection systems viable and contemporary, governments will seek to leverage the growing amounts of digital data to reform social policy and target scarce resources based on need. This requires a sustained effort to rebuild public trust and promote a new active citizenship model, where people are consulted and engaged in the co-creation and co-design of social policy reform. Social innovation enabled by ICT has the potential to advance the aim of creating public value within inclusive societies.

This article is co-authored with my colleague Belinda McKeon. To find out how Accenture can help you to find the Goldilocks Zone to achieve better social outcomes for citizens, visit us Accenture.com or contact me directly.

[i] Heintzman, R., & Marson, B. (2005). “People, service and trust: it there a public sector service value chain?” International Review of Administrative Services.

[ii] European Economic and Social Committee. (2012). Active Citizenship for a better European society. Brussels: European Union.

[iii] Heintzman & Marson. 2005.

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