Government services should be channel-agnostic

Berlin has kicked off a long process to develop a so-called “digital strategy” for government services. About time, I might add, given that the UK have gone through this process at the national (read: more complex) level about a decade ago, starting with Alpha Gov. And that team documented extensively what works, what doesn’t, what to pay attention to. Estonia has also done a tremendous job in that space, and even the US — not always a paragon of great government services to put it mildly — have really ramped up there government digital services, too.

After some conversations with folk in the administration and some additional reading up on the current Berlin debate, I kept noticing something that I believe indicates an unconstructive fallacy:

I think it is a mistake to assume that in order to make use of the internet, government services should either:

  • digital tools need to make analog administrational processes more accessible, or
  • analog administrational processes need to become more digital

I think both are plain wrong, and dangerously so. Instead, government services need to be channel-agnostic. To whatever degree possible, it simply shouldn’t matter if you choose an analog or a digital channel, or a hybrid thereof.

When a citizen needs to get a job done, it shouldn’t matter if they initiate that process over the internet, by phone, or in person. 

Which means that the backend for the administrational staff also needs to be built channel-agnostic: Not emails printed out to go into the usual folder — that’s a kludge at best — but a completely new process where it doesn’t matter where the process started.

So that’s something to keep in mind when talking about a digital strategy.