Digital service delivery in the post-Robodebt era

No government department in Australia can afford to ignore the learnings from the Robodebt Royal Commission, writes Phillip Bland.

Phillip Bland

Right now, many Australians are questioning the ability of government departments to deliver digital services. Conversations will likely continue to build ahead of and after the Royal Commission’s report is delivered at the end of June, and for some Australians this will impact their willingness to use similar digital offerings in the future.

It comes as government departments across the country are looking for and building new ways to digitise service delivery – such as the new proposed national identity scheme and recommended improvements to the myGov portal.

This reality is a glaring juxtaposition. When you consider accountability and dependability of service delivery are two of the key drivers of trust in government it’s fair to argue the currency upon which governments operate has been impacted.

Without trust digital progress is burdened

Rather than be paralysed by the situation, the need for government teams to take action and move forward is critical. Central to making progress is rebuilding trust. Because without trust digital progress will be burdened. This means governments need to demonstrate competency and ethical behaviour.

Within this conversation, it’s important to recognise government departments and agencies have a difficult job when it comes to delivering policies that meet the needs of their communities. Governments have to serve a range of citizens with different needs, from diverse backgrounds, and with preferred ways of engaging. Unlike the private sector, governments do not always have the luxury to deliver policy and programs at a time of their choosing – and in many instances they are being asked to deliver them faster than ever before.

Three ways to rebuild trust in digital service delivery in government

As government departments work to rebuild trust in digital service delivery after the Robodebt scheme, there are three key capabilities to prioritise:

1.Iterative policy

Citizens change, and their needs are changing faster and becoming more diverse than ever before. As a result, governments need the ability to change with them, which involves iterating policies.

To help shift toward iterative policy design, governments need to rethink how they capture and use citizen feedback. Traditionally, citizen feedback has been a byproduct of a policy or launch; it’s captured to measure the success and impact. However, this static approach limits the ability of government teams to cultivate dependability and accountability in service delivery.

When it comes to designing and implementing effective policies, feedback must be seen as a primary capability. By capturing citizen feedback at every stage of the journey – from design through to post-launch – governments can use the insights to continually guide and inform the end product. The result will be a policy tailored for the diverse needs of people living in Australia, and which is more likely to deliver the desired outcomes.


Considering the unprecedented rate of change across economies right now, few government policies or services can be meaningfully improved by a five or 10 year plan – at the end of the period there’s no guarantee the program will still be relevant to the outside world.

In place of this traditional approach, government departments will benefit by partnering with citizens and their employees to co-create services and offerings. With OECD research showing almost half of Australians are not confident they have a say in service delivery, co-creating with citizens is a huge untapped opportunity to cultivate trust – especially among disadvantaged groups and younger generations where trust is lowest and who arguably have the most to gain.

Co-creation goes beyond merely acknowledging feedback. It is the ability to open a door at any touchpoint and invite users to participate in research and testing,

Auckland City Council is a leading example of a government co-creating and implementing policy. The Council is using regular feedback from citizens to guide its journey to create a prosperous future with many opportunities and a better standard of living for everyone. Another example can be seen at the Queensland State Government Department of Transport and Main Roads, which is partnering with citizens to ensure business places and work practices enable everyone – including marginalised or vulnerable people.

3.Enable frontline employees

Frontline workers in government have had a challenging few years – from supporting citizens during bushfires and floods through to navigating the pandemic. A recent survey by Qualtrics indicates burnout is now a reality for a third (35%) of government employees across the globe. Similarly, it shows employees are losing a sense of purpose which, for many, was the reason they became public servants in the first place.

Failure to address burnout or cultivate aligned values with employees can have negative consequences for government departments and agencies. On one hand it has the potential to manifest itself in poor service delivery and a poor customer experience – which feeds the trust gap. Similarly, it will see talent move to the private sector at a time when governments need digital skills most.

To enable and engage frontline teams, government departments and agencies need to invest in effective tools and adequate resources that show employees their work and impact is valued. Understanding and supporting employee wellness and resilience will help address the gaps that have emerged. Simple steps such as publically communicating the value of employee work can also go a long way in rekindling the sense of purpose — and connecting employees with how their work directly contributes to the mission of public good.

Cultivating trust for generations to come

Government departments across Australia are facing a once in a generation opportunity: the chance to cultivate trust, deliver financial savings, and increase living standards for generations to come. Digital services that help build closer relationships between citizens and governments are fundamental to capitalising on this.

A successful shift toward digital will require government departments and agencies to rethink how they listen, understand, and act on feedback from citizens. While this might be a new approach for some, the reality is effective listening has always been at the heart of successful governments.

*Phillip Bland is Head of Government Strategy ANZ at Qualtrics

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