Voices from Accenture Public Service

Richard Thaler, a pioneer of behavioural economics and co-author of the bestselling book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness,” was  awarded with the 2017 Nobel prize for economics. His thinking has influenced policy makers globally, as they look to predictably alter behaviour without restricting consumer choice options or significantly changing incentives. Thaler’s work is beginning to influence social services policy and service delivery trends around the world. 

The UK government established the  Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), while in the United States the  Social and Behavioural Sciences Team (SBST) was set up in response to Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s behavioural economics theory, to start testing and applying these behavioural techniques. In Australia, the  Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) was established in 2016 within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The BIT developed the  EAST framework in 2012 which states, “If you want to encourage a behaviour, make it Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely (EAST).” These simple principles can be applied in a government service delivery context to, for example, encourage the uptake of lower-cost channels. However, I propose there is another reason beyond initial cost savings why EAST should be applied in service delivery, and my rationale lies in unleashing the public value of digital data. 

The first word in the acronym, “Easy,” can be misinterpreted when working in social services. The principle of mutual obligation that applies to many social services benefits, i.e., the requirement to be actively seeking work in order to qualify for benefits, can be seen by some as contrary to the E component of the EAST framework. In this case, the design focus is to make it easy for a jobseeker to demonstrate they are compliant through a digital declaration, for example, rather than through physical attendance at a service centre. 

By digitalising the user experience and making digital services easy and convenient to use, people are more likely to choose those services over their previously preferred service channels, i.e., phone, face-to-face, mail. The resulting increase in people using digital channels means more digital data is collected at every interaction by the service delivery agency. 

Data is at the core of an outcome driven approach as it provides a deeper understanding of the social services user. Data on the services consumed leads to improvement in capability for more effective tailoring of the service response according to need. The ability to evaluate social programs in real-time to ensure they are achieving the policy intent is now possible through the use of predictive analytics. 

A rapid feedback loop enabled by a real-time evaluation approach can lead to more agile policy and program delivery resulting in better outcomes. This is a win-win situation for the social services user who needs a helping hand while experiencing a social risk, and for the taxpaying public as the social security system becomes more effective and efficient. 

“The purpose of government is to make, implement and administer policy decisions on behalf of the community for which it has responsibility, for example a nation or a city, on matters that affect the lives of that community as a whole,” (Waller & Weerakkody, 2016). For service delivery agencies in social services looking to emulate the service delivery experience of the commercial sector, citizens receiving benefits are not the only customer. This position is shared with the government, which in turn is answerable to the public at large through the electoral franchise. This example of public value creation is akin to a commercial operator having an obligation to create shareholder value through its service delivery model. 

Establishing the balance between public value and service excellence at the individual citizen level requires some compromises. For this reason, service quality using initiatives like EAST in a social services context should be viewed as a mechanism for setting the balance point. For most people this means Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely and when this occurs, public value is a natural by-product. For some policy settings, such as where mutual obligations and conditionality are in play, individual citizens may still feel burdened, however, this may be in line with the policy intent which is in place to create public value. 

The capability to offer a differential service response calibrated to circumstance and context is the key to making the sometimes-necessary compromises to balance the EAST framework with policy intent. This capability is enhanced by the data and insight captured through digital service delivery. 

The expectation for digital service delivery is only going to continue to rise. A recent Accenture citizen pulse survey showed that 64 percent of those surveyed in Australia expect the same level of digital service from their Social Service Agency that they get from their bank. You can read the results here. 

For more information on how service delivery agencies can digitalise their user experience and improve service quality, visit us at Accenture.com or contact me directly. 

See this post on LinkedIn: Turn EAST for Service Delivery Excellence in Social Services. 

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