Voices from Accenture Public Service


People in virtually every country in the world now come into contact with digital technology and experiences every day. And research shows consistently that their expectations and attitudes towards digital vary widely. When you ask citizens in different countries how comfortable they feel about sharing data online, data privacy or the risk of their data being misused, you consistently find their responses differ sharply.

As social services across the world move towards digital delivery to boost effectiveness and efficiency, many agencies are asking whether similar national differences in citizens’ attitudes will emerge. And now we have an answer—provided by results our 2017 Accenture Public Citizen Survey.

The study is based on interviews with more than 6,000 citizens in six countries, drilling down into their perceptions, expectations and aspirations for the social services they use every day. As such, it provides a unique snapshot of what people want from their human services in territories across the world.

I’ve been taking a close look at the findings from the five participating countries outside the United States—Australia, the UK, Singapore, France and Germany. The top-level message from all these territories is that people want social services that are digital and personalised. But perhaps more interesting than what citizens in these countries have in common, are the wide differences our research reveals between them.

What differences? Take citizens’ expectations of the quality of digital interactions with their social services agencies. Across the five countries, two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents expect these interactions to be as good as those with their online banking, social media or ride-sharing app providers.

When you drill down to the individual countries in our global sample, the picture become much more fragmented—with 70 percent of citizens in Singapore and Germany expecting the highest quality of digital interactions from their social services agencies, against just 62 percent in the UK, where expectations are lowest.

Similar divergences emerge when citizens are asked whether the digital sophistication of their social services agencies has improved noticeably, and has also improved the service they receive. Again Singapore is the most positive on this question, with 57 percent saying they’ve seen such an improvement. But this time it’s Germany where citizens are least positive, with only 30 percent noting an improvement, narrowly below the UK at 32 percent.

A comparable pattern emerges when we ask citizens how comfortable they are with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) applications familiar in other areas of their lives—the likes of chatbots, robots, virtual assistants and intelligent machines—in their interactions with social service agencies, and whether they believe AI would improve those interactions. Once again, citizens in Singapore are the most positive, with 43 percent saying that they’re comfortable with the use of AI in social services and believe it will be beneficial. The least positive responses came from Germany, where only 29 percent say this.

That said, it’s interesting to note that citizens in all the countries surveyed are still relatively wary of AI in social services. Only 35 percent across all countries are positive about its use and beneficial impacts—in no country, does a majority take this view.

Finally, our study drills down into the ways in which citizens would be happiest to see AI applied by social services agencies. Asked whether they think using a virtual agent to help citizens get quicker responses to queries would be an appropriate use of AI in social services, 42 percent across all countries agree it would—with the country-level findings ranging from a high of 52 percent in Singapore to lows of 37 percent in Germany, 38 percent in Australia and 39 percent in the UK. France is close to the global average at 44 percent.

So, what do these findings tell us? Essentially that no two countries are identical in terms of their citizens’ expectations, desires and concerns around the use of digital in the delivery of social services.

As our research reveals, citizens’ level of comfort, confidence and trust in digital delivery runs across a wide spectrum, with Singapore and Germany generally at the extremes, and other countries located somewhere in between. Yet Germany also underlines the unique dynamics that can exist within countries—by exhibiting the equal highest expectations of digital social services (with Singapore), yet also the lowest degree of comfort with AI.

Taking all these findings together, the message is clear. As social services agencies regardless of country turn to digital technologies to enhance effectiveness, efficiency and user experience, it’s important to be aware that there will be conflict between citizen demands for higher levels of service and concerns for issues around privacy, data security and the use of AI. One thing emerges from these findings is that social service agencies will need to make increased digital capability, cyber security and the responsible use of AI, fundamental aspects of their service delivery approaches. At Accenture, we help social service agencies deal with these conflicting challenges every day. Find out more at Accenture.com or contact me directly.

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