Editorial

NI citizens turn to online public services during pandemic

New report by Civica shows public’s high expectations of digital technologies to connect communities

Posted 23 September 2020 by

A new report from by Civica, reveals that almost half (47 percent) of Northern Irish citizens believe that the public sector made good use of digital to protect the lives of public during pandemic.

In fact, 26 percent of NI citizens claim they trust government services more following the pandemic.

The report is based on research from more than 2,000 citizens across Northern Ireland. The study also shows that almost half (49 percent) of NI adults say they want to use digital tech more frequently following lockdown.

“This is a comprehensive survey of attitudes to online engagement with public services,” said Mark Owens, managing director at Civica Northern Ireland. “It shows that the government can respond in record time to deliver effective software such as the COVID-19 NI symptom tracker information app and recent track and trace version.

“But we cannot wait for a crisis to deepen before we recognise that we have the technology to give remote access to vital services such as GP appointments, manage socially distanced out-patient services or provide personalised benefits support. Plus, the public is clearly telling us that they want these services online and will use them.”

Forty-six percent believe digital technologies can connect the community or improve the lives of citizens following the pandemic – an increase of nearly 10 percent in two years.

Civica notes this is particularly important for the wellbeing and safety of the elderly in the region. The firm’s A Word from the Wise research showed that 81 percent of the over-70s in NI say that information and research is a main reason for going online and using technology, with 50 percent saying that communicating with friends and family is a main reason.

Last Friday saw the highest number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland since the Department of Health rolled out its current testing model. The region, and the rest of the UK, faces a second lockdown which could drastically change citizen lives for the foreseeable future.

Re-shape delivery of public services

The report explores how public sector organisations in NI should use the pandemic as a catalyst to re-shape the delivery of public services in the event of a second wave, and in the future. It calls for the Northern Irish government to support affordable and reliable broadband, as well as fast tracking procurement of user-friendly government software and apps. This will make it easier, particularly for older people, to access the services they need online.

Said Owens: “For public sector leaders to successfully lead these initiatives, we need collaboration, closer partnerships with digital suppliers and a procurement framework that puts the citizens’ needs above all else.”