The personalisation of public services

Sketchnote showing how the last twenty years saw the digitalisation of public services, while the next twenty years will see the personalisation of public services

The last twenty years saw the era when public services went digital. Beginning with information websites to help people pay their taxes, start a business or initiate a court proceeding, it evolved into full blown digital transformation, with clunky paper-based processes like renewing your passport or applying for probate, simplified and digitised into accessible online services.

And while this process of digitisation and simplification continues, the arrival of new technologies mixed with increasingly complex social issues and continual pressure on budgets, means we’re now entering a new era where public services will become more and more personalised to each citizen.

What does public service personalisation look like?

Our lives are becoming increasingly complex and whilst individual interactions with government are much simpler, many of those interactions are part of a wider journey that people go on, where they also interact with other individuals, along with private and third sector organisations.

On top of this, people need to make lots of decisions in areas they don’t fully understand or with implications they don’t fully appreciate – often under conditions of stress.

If you’ve ever rented, bought or extended a property, you’ll know what a minefield these journeys can be. Where do you start? Do you need to pay taxes? If so, how much? Do you need planning permission? And what happens if something goes wrong? Can you take legal action? Should you take legal action?

One way to help this situation is for people to be guided through their journey, much like a sat nav helps us navigate our way through a busy city. For this to be effective, the guide needs to understand your unique situation, be able to advise you on the best route to take and introduce you to other people and organisations who can help you make informed choices.

Imagine having someone on hand 24/7 to guide you with information and actions perfectly tailored to your situation, whenever you need them. Or to automatically gather the information you need for complicated forms like tax returns or benefits.

Now imagine having that guidance provided to you in the way that engages you the most. Whether you prefer to read, watch a video or have something that feels a lot like talking to a trusted expert on the phone?

This is where personalised public services will transform our experience of dealing with government and difficult life challenges. 

Rather than designing ‘one-size fits all’ services, Government departments will be able to customise the service to your specific needs or even better, to take you through your journey without you even realising you’re dealing with different departments. 

The challenges to overcome

New technologies like generative AI will play a key role in the personalisation era, but there’s a whole range of structural, legal and ethical challenges to navigate along the way.

Better data sharing between government departments and non-government organisations will be required. This will involve changes to infrastructure, standardisation and the way data quality is maintained. Today, inconsistent data standards are a major blocker to government initiatives at both national and local levels.

Privacy and data security will also be major challenges. A service tailored to your needs depends on access to your personal data and there will be ethical questions around who can access this data, how the data is used, how it will be protected and whether people will even want to make this trade-off.

A further challenge will be in ensuring content quality. If generative AI is used to tailor content to individual needs, how will we quality assure the content is both accurate and relevant to the individual and what happens if something goes wrong?

Nobody knows the answers to these questions yet, but solving these problems will certainly be the focus of government transformation over the next twenty years.

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