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Rebuilding community: The roadmap to a brighter 2021
by Steve Foley

There are few who would argue that 2020 won’t be a year for the history books. As America grapples with the world’s biggest coronavirus death toll, it’s important to consider the way in which society, businesses and government will rebuild for a better 2021.

Whoever sits in the White House following January 20th will face a divided nation. A Trump win might further escalate tensions between protesters, and law enforcement, resulting in further violence across the country. It will be seen by many as the result of a hijacked election, requiring voter IDs, voting in person and tampering with the USPS.  A Biden win, meanwhile, might be seen as a Fake News as a result of an unjust election as several states are not requiring traditional voting at polling stations and permitting mail in ballots beyond absentee voting, creating concerns of ballot stuffing, fraud, and unaccounted for votes because of postal service delays.

It should come as little surprise that this level of distrust – not just of government but of each other – is reflected in the polls. Sixty-four per cent of US adults say that Americans trust each other less, but 70% say that low trust in each other makes it harder to solve problems[1].

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly highlighted cracks and weaknesses in how government functions. American society will rebuild, but it’s important to take this opportunity to reflect on how we measure success within federal services. So how do we create a brighter, more open 2021? The answer, unsurprisingly, is through better use of data.

A recent report by The American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), challenges: “Imagine a government where people are offered services based on analysis of data and awareness of their current needs and anticipation of what may be helpful in the future.”

That last bit is critical. Federal services must be able to look ahead and predict what citizens will need before they need it to become more agile.

To do this, they’re going to need to get the public to willingly supply data and feel the benefits. People are only going to do this for two reasons: Because they directly receive a better service by doing so, and secondly because everyone else is doing it. It needs to become something that is just part of being an American citizen.

The report lays out a vision of a citizen-centric, resilient, efficient and agile government, buoyed by investments in cybersecurity, data, its workforce, partnerships and intelligent automation. “Intelligent automation is often perceived as a threat to the workforce but when leveraged in strategic ways, it can create opportunities for higher-level knowledge work, as well as new roles and empower and optimize the workforce,” the report reads. 

By bringing data together form different agencies and employing AI programs that can work through and sort them, government can provide a consistently higher level of service without any radical changes or upheavals being felt by the people it serves.

The benefits of this approach won’t be just felt by American citizens generally, they’ll be felt by staff too, who are more likely to stay in the role longer thanks to a forward-thinking internal approach that retains and utilizes their talent. In 2018, polling by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service in conjunction with Boston Consulting Group revealed job satisfaction was down by more than half in federal agencies, with many suffering from high-profile leaders moving elsewhere[2].

Turning around the reputation for federal agencies won’t happen overnight, but by taking immediate steps to put the strategy and framework in place, the US government can rebuild as a world leader in data and customer services, and attract the top talent it needs, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The report lays out a number of things that need to be done to make this happen. In the final blog of this series we will go through its recommendations. A fundamental change in approach in how agencies measure success is needed to better drive staff and leaders towards the same goal.

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[1] Delivering Outcomes, Building Trust, American Council for Technology 2020

[2] https://thehill.com/homenews/news/421019-job-satisfaction-down-at-nearly-60-percent-of-federal-agencies

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