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People first - not digital first: CAB

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 03 March 2020, 7:51 am

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is questioning whether the Government's push to drive public services online is in the best interest of all New Zealanders.

In its report 'Face to Face with Digital Exclusion', the CAB looks at how digital public services impact everyday New Zealanders. Its findings are based on 4379 interactions, where digital exclusion was identified, over a three-month period.

"Taking a human-centred approach is of course critical to ensuring that the use of technology supports people's needs. Unfortunately, what many people experience is services designed to be 'digital first', rather than 'people first'; services that appear to provide convenience, efficiency and cost savings for government, rather than for the people being served," the report note.

"For those who are already disadvantaged in society and who struggle to interact with government, the digital transformation of the public sector often makes things harder and fails to meet people's needs. This is particularly problematic in areas where difficulty accessing services has a negative impact on wellbeing."

The report questions if the current Government's move to put wellbeing at the centre of its vision for New Zealand, is at odds with a target for the public service that states "80% of the transactions for the twenty most common public services will be completed digitally by 2021."

There are numerous examples provided in the report where people found it difficult to access public services because they either didn't have the technology available to them, or it was the wrong technology. For example, if you want to set up a RealMe account, you're advised not to use a Gmail account, "despite this being the most popular email system worldwide with over one billion users."

The report points out that more and more New Zealanders are being pushed into digital transactions with a public service that is supposed to serve them, as face-to-face interactions and access to paper-based resources are scaled back.

Examples of digital-only options include Immigration New Zealand systematically closing its public counter services and no longer printing visa-related forms, the Department of Internal Affairs not printing passport renewal forms and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment making the system for requesting Employment Mediation Services an online process, with no accessible paper-based option.

CAB's report is the latest in a number of reports about the impact of digital exclusion in New Zealand, which is becoming more pronounced with the rollout of government-backed broadband programmes.

As we head into an election year, it would be good to see all political parties take the issue seriously by considering how to tackle digital exclusion in their policies.

You can read the full CAB report here.


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