The largest study analysing citizens' thoughts on government services has revealed that New Zealand's most financially unstable citizens are the least likely to avail themselves of government support via digital channels. The study, entitled 'New Zealand Digital Citizens: Continuing the Journey with Empathy', uncovers a notable lack of empathy in service design contributing to a growing trend of 'digital disadvantage' amongst this demographic. Independent economics consultants, IBRS, and global ERP software company, TechnologyOne, generated the report, with more than 2,800 responses from participants across New Zealand.
Findings indicated that less than four in ten New Zealanders identified as having precarious financial status, defined as having bills they may be unable to pay on time or debt that will take time to pay off, utilise local government services. This figure contrasts with 62% of financially comfortable citizens accessing these services. The study also noted disparities in usage of central government services, with 67% of financially unstable citizens availing themselves of these services compared to 74% of their financially stable counterparts. Despite a significant effort to bridge the digital divide via national connectivity programs, these differences suggest a widening gap between those who can access and benefit from government digital services and those who cannot.
Dr Joseph Sweeney, Senior Advisor at IBRS, led the research and commented, "New Zealand has worked hard to close the digital divide, but it has been replaced by digital disadvantage. We must now address the root causes that go beyond connectivity." He added, "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."
The research has unearthed what New Zealand's citizens want from their local and central government digital services. Most citizens view these services as a convenience, with 64% and 62% respectively saving them time. However, 30% and 38% would like both local and central governments to make information easier to find. Additionally, over a quarter expressed a desire for clearer instructions on how to use services or accomplish tasks. Citizens from precarious socioeconomic backgrounds showed a particular interest in clearer exposition of entitlements and obligations and increased human support.
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."
Craig Young, CEO of the Technology Users Association of New Zealand, shared that, 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," Young said.