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New Zealand’s Most In Need Citizens Missing Out On Government Services

New Zealand’s most in need citizens are the least likely to engage with government support via digital channels, according to the largest study of its kind, as a lack of empathy in service design contributes to growing digital disadvantage.

Global ERP software company, TechnologyOne, commissioned the report, New Zealand Digital Citizens Continuing the Journey with Empathy’, from independent economics consultants, IBRS. It is the largest evaluation of citizens’ thoughts on government services with responses from more than 2,800 participants across New Zealand. The research found that despite the significant effort to close the digital divide with national connectivity programs, the less financially stable an individual is, the less likely they are to engage with government services online.

Less than four in ten (38%) people with ‘precarious’ financial status – defined as having bills they may be unable to pay on time or debt that will take time to pay off – are actively using local government services, compared to more than six in ten (62%) financially ‘comfortable’ citizens – a significant difference of 24 percent. Similarly, 67 percent of citizens with lower financial status use central government services versus 74 percent of financially comfortable citizens, a difference of seven percent between the opposing social categories. The research found central government services had been actively used by 43 percent of citizens for more than four years prior to COVID, however this number increased significantly to 70 percent during the pandemic.

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Today, most citizens believe local and central government services provide convenience (64% and 62% respectively) and save them time (56% and 54% respectively). However, citizens would like both local and central governments to ‘make information easier to find’ (30% and 38% respectively) while over a quarter (28%) would like clearer instructions on ‘how to do things or get services’. Citizens from precarious socioeconomic backgrounds were also more interested in ‘clearly showing entitlements and obligations’ and ‘more human support’.

Dr Joseph Sweeney, IBRS Senior Advisor who led the research, said, What these findings highlight is a clear distinction between people being able to access digital services and successfully engage government services on offer and those that can’t. New Zealand has worked hard to close the ‘digital divide’, but it has been replaced by ‘digital disadvantage’ and we must now address the root causes that go beyond connectivity. Rather than focusing on big innovations that require significant investment, it is better to focus on enriching existing services with empathic delivery design principles that educate and guide citizens through the service.” 

John Mazenier, New Zealand’s Country Manager for TechnologyOne, added: “These findings reinforce the positive impact investment into the digitalisation of core systems has had on New Zealand’s government services. Software as a Service (SaaS) plays a crucial role in providing flexible services, enhancing operational resilience, and meeting citizens’ needs. However, the research identified that further improvement doesn't require significant new investment in technology. In fact, once the right core is in place, the focus can turn to community needs. By adding empathy to existing digital services, agencies and councils can dramatically improve the uptake, engagement and, most importantly, equity of service delivery.”

Craig Young, CEO, Technology Users Association of New Zealand, said: “While digital transformation in Aotearoa has indeed brought numerous services online, the emphasis often prioritised organisational outcomes over user experience and universal accessibility. This report contributes to ongoing work and dialogue on digital inclusivity, providing insights and data to steer future strategies and implementations towards a more inclusive and user-centric digital ecosystem.”

View the findings and download the full report here.

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