The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Veteran broadcaster Tim Modise joins five panellist, Gaba Tabane, George Tshesane, Seliki Tlhabane, Mfanelo Ntsobi and Jannie de Beer to discuss sustaining public trust in government through seamless service delivery. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty into national and global society, including schools. Making informed decisions on how the virus impacts student learning and whether and when to return to in-person teaching remained difficult. The minister of education, in consultation with cabinet had to make the seemingly impossible choice of balancing health risks associated with contact learning against the educational needs of children. Yet amidst all this uncertainty, Covid-19 helped to accelerate the adoption of low-end, middle-end and high-end technologies that we never knew existed.
George Tshesane on defining seamless service delivery
Seamless delivery is characterised by three things. It is personalised, frictionless and anticipatory. Personalised means the service is tailored to the individual’s needs, interests and circumstances. In other words, it is not the one-size-fits-all approach. Frictionless means that accessing the service requires little to no effort on the part of the consumer. In other words, there are no frustrating barriers or formalities. Anticipatory means the provider anticipates what you want next and offers it proactively. When you think about the concept of seamless service delivery, it seems impossible but it’s actually not. Some governments are making huge strides in this area. In 1995, for example, Belgium ran a project looking at pre-filing tax returns where most of the information is pre-populated. Today, more government agencies are taking a similar approach to improve the consumer experience. The second example is the city of Stockholm that in 2019, introduced mobility as a service project where users can connect to public transport, bike rental and taxi services through a single smartphone app. Citizens can seamlessly access multiple transportation options and pay only one bill.
What does it take to achieve the vision of seamless service delivery? The first step is to commit fully to digital services. This means rethinking every aspect of public services not only by redesigning vacant processes, but rethinking the whole concept of how services are delivered. Fortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has helped to accelerate the need for touchless services. The second important thing is designing protective services around life events. Child death is an example of a life event that could trigger multiple types of services. Firstly, it starts service delivery without the citizen necessarily needing to be involved. Secondly, it gives access to multiple types of services arising from a singular example. In 2019, Estonia developed an automated IT system that fetches child death data from the population’s registry each night. Parents who are eligible for family benefits are sent a prompt, confirmation takes less than a minute, and then funds are transferred to the family’s bank account. This automated model can be applied to numerous other events, whether it is job loss, retirement, injury, illness, or even death. However, this is only possible through data-sharing mechanisms. It is a requirement to build infrastructure to support seamless services. The data needs to be in a format that is compatible with AI technologies to anticipate service needs. The concept of digital identity also becomes important. It is a unique uniform ID that gives agents access to data about a citizen. The analogy I can make is similar to a fingerprint type.
Seliki Tlhabane on seamless service delivery through the lens of basic education
Education is one sector where every citizen is a stakeholder. Education affects the entire society. During Covid-19, everyone was interested in knowing how education was going to respond. One thing the nation knows very well is that Covid-19 led to school closures, interrupting service delivery. Seamless government service delivery from a basic education perspective means uninterrupted schooling. However, owing to the regulations that were placed on all of us and the infrastructure challenges we had, some of the protocols compelled us to adopt new ways of delivering education, including rotational school attendance. We have to comply with the 1.5 m social distance. We had to adapt quickly to technology that we never knew existed. We had to adopt remote learning strategies that include the use of low-end, middle-end and high-end technology.
Low-end technologies include the use of radio and television. We worked with local radio stations, including community radio stations, to deliver lessons to children at home. We identified some of our top teachers to ensure educational continuity. Television is one of the technologies with the highest potential as the majority of households have a TV. Middle-end technologies include the use of WhatsApp for content delivery. We also had high-end technologies that required high-speed connectivity for virtual classrooms to deliver lessons to those who were able to afford it. When the minister decided, in consultation with the cabinet, to bring schoolchildren back, there was an uproar in society that the minister wanted to kill children. But the decision was informed by scientific data and evidence. We have always held the belief that we are stronger in the classroom and because of the cost of technology, not every child or every parent can afford it. So, we had to come up with strategies to bring children back. We are happy the cabinet approved that all children should return to school to ensure continued government service delivery. But technology is already here, and we are not going to drop all the gains we have made. We have increased our investment in technology and will continue to do so.
Mfanelo Ntsobi on the practical implementation of enhancing service delivery
In 2014, we embarked on a transformation plan to introduce technology in the classroom, to bring about excitement, but also to improve educational outcomes. The pillars of this strategy were to provide the school with connectivity, to ensure the distribution of devices in classrooms, and to ensure the devices were preloaded. At the end of that solution was the teacher-development training because many educators were not exposed to technology. We renovated classrooms, particularly in township schools. During Covid-19, we converted over 604 schools, which benefited over 10,000 classrooms across the province, with about 16,000 educators being trained. The pillars we have adopted include innovation and research that we, as the provincial government, have adopted. In essence, to promote seamless service delivery, we have to ensure we introduce and fast track technology to enhance teaching and learning.
Jannie de Beer on innovation within the health sector in North West
North West is a very rural province, so we have technology issues we have to deal with. However, we have been able to give facilities access to routers to access the internet and capture data. Our priority was to try and deal with treating patients and getting access to the relevant medical equipment. I think as a province, we did well. [It still requires] a lot of improvement going forward in making sure that when you want to use artificial intelligence or ICT systems, you have seamless service delivery even though you are not able to have access to patients all the time or render services continuously.
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