Editorial

Designing for people: how to unlock digital services with citizen centric identity management

From virtual family gatherings to conducting business remotely, the pace at which human experiences have digitised since the COVID-19 pandemic has been astounding. In this moment of rapid change, we need more modern and accessible ways of proving our identity online. Accenture’s Caroline Persson, Ilze Skujina and Rachel Moss explain we must rethink how digital identity services are provided for citizens.

Posted 26 August 2021 by Christine Horton


This year’s Think Digital Identity conference highlighted that we’re past the point of only thinking about risk reduction and compliance. Instead, we must think about how we can drive value and improve the experience for citizens who are accessing an ever-increasing number of government services online. Simply put, users need to be the focus when implementing digital identity services. And, as we explore this approach, there are three key areas that public and private organisations should be thinking about:  

  • Designing for inclusion
  • Engaging citizens
  • Building trust

How do we do inclusion by design?

Start by designing for accessibility and inclusion. For example, rather than creating a service and then thinking about the changes for people with accessibility needs, make them your starting point. If you can design a service that works for users with the most challenging needs, you are more likely to create a service that is user-friendly for everyone. Ideas discussed at Think Digital, such as vouching, attributes exchanges, and digitising life events, are a welcome start to lower the barrier to entry for people.

When defining these user needs, organisations must incorporate the voice of the citizen throughout the service design and delivery process. Estonia’s approach here is instructive. Rather than designing for citizens they design with them. Their e-Democracy approach was designed to encourage and harness participation and close the gap between service providers and users. As Kristina Reinsalu, Programme Director of e-Democracy at the e-Governance Academy, puts it “I do not think that citizens are satisfied with this passive recipient role nowadays.”

With this in mind, we have to get away from an approach that looks at technology first and instead focus on what citizens need. As part of this we are going to need to see greater collaboration both between different suppliers and across departmental boundaries. Everyone needs to be brought to the table to talk about how to best engage with citizens to create digital identities that work for people.

How can we involve citizens in the design process?

Of course, this approach hinges on being able to inform and actively engage citizens in these discussions. In the UK this has historically been difficult, but organisations need to get it right. This will be a long-term process for everyone involved, but we think there are some clear steps we can take to help develop this dialogue.

First, use straightforward language. The jargon and technical terminology that we use every day in the digital identity space (e.g., “attributes”) is unrelatable to most citizens. If we want to engage people in discussions about what would work for them, we must be careful in our choice of words when we introduce new technology to the public. The GDS’ own content design standards are a great place to start when thinking about how to do this but will need to be adapted for this context.

Secondly, design education into your services to make them intuitive and easy to use the first time. Interactions with digital identity services usually only happen at the point when a citizen needs something, so any additional learning time can create unnecessary friction. We must think about when the education process will happen, and who will be responsible for it when designing digital identity-as-a-service.

How can we build trust in digital identity services?

In our previous blog, we wrote about how the level of trust varies greatly between different countries due to a range of factors. What works in one country therefore may not work in another, but in all cases, trust takes time to build and providing a valuable service is good way to do it.

The Scottish Government Transformation strategy of starting small and building the infrastructure while focusing on building public trust is instructive. Digital Identity Scotland (DIS) is beginning its journey to provide seamless access to public services by building infrastructure and trust little by little to nurture public acceptance. During this incremental approach transparency with users is key.

A single digital ID for multiple services would be better for both users and service providers, but this cannot just be implemented straight away. Users must be taken on the journey, shown how it will be easier for them to use a single point of access and given control over how this ID is used by services. This inclusive process should focus on building trust with users and demonstrate that the government can be trusted to use their data appropriately.

It’s also essential to work with trusted organisations across the supply chain. In order for a digital identity service to be trustworthy, citizens need to have confidence in the providers behind it. Think about potential partners that already have high levels of public trust and see how that can be used to build trust in the service as a whole. For example, the Swedish government draws on the trust citizens have in their banks and uses their expertise to build services that are perceived as highly trustworthy.

Finally, there is no way to build a truly accepted digital identity service without addressing common concerns around privacy and data sharing. In this scenario, consent is key. The public must be aware of what they’re sharing, when they’re sharing it and be in control to say no at any point. Existing GDPR standards are a good starting point, but it is the UK digital identity and attributes trust framework that will need to formalise a clear set of rules and standards that establish safeguards for citizens.

So, what does this mean going forward?

There is no silver bullet. Getting digital identity right to improve outcomes for citizens will require a huge orchestration effort and cross-sector collaboration – and it is essential that we bring users along on that journey. Every single step of the way.  

A good measure of success is how many people adopt digital identity, but the real testament to success will be how this ultimately transforms experiences, creates new opportunities, and improves access to goods and services for all.