New GovTech report by Civica a must read for public sector trends

By Civica

Harnessing the power of citizen data to identify the most vulnerable. Bridging the digital divide with smart technologies. These are just some of the key highlights of Civica’s GovTech trends report, Perspectives*.

Image: Canva. 

A report by the World Bank found that nearly one third of its PDF reports about public policy had never been downloaded. Another 40 per cent of the World Bank’s reports have been downloaded fewer than 100 times. 


But within two weeks of its launch, Civica Northstar’s 2023 GovTech trends report Perspectives*, was downloaded almost 120,000 times worldwide.


“This level of reader engagement suggests to us that technology trends and development really strike a chord with our audience" says Harold de Neef, Group Director of Product & Innovation at Civica and a lead author of the report. 


Global GovTech leader Civica focuses on software and technology that helps the public sector. Civica’s Northstar, for instance, is an innovation lab focused specifically on researching how GovTech can make the lives of citizens, patients, and students better.


The team had, in fact, hoped to have been “maybe a bit more wrong” with the inaugural version of the report last year, which was released just after the pandemic began, de Neef tells GovInsider. “We didn’t want to be ‘too safe’ or ‘too obvious’ with the trends that we predicted for the next year.” 


From bracing for the ripples of the imminent cost of living crisis to addressing the lack of citizen trust, read on get the scoop on Civica’s bold new predictions about the state of GovTech in 2023. 


Building citizen trust to maximise public good 


De Neef theorises that part of the reason why the report received so much attention was that it catered specifically to government readers, as opposed to talking about tech trends in general. 


For example, everyone knows that data is the way forward, but the big problem that the public sector faces is that people don’t always trust their government with data. 


“We give our data to Uber, app developers, our banks, and food delivery companies, but we don’t want to share that data with our local authorities or doctors,” points out de Neef. 


Hence, the current reality for the public sector is not so much yet a question of what to do with the data, but how to get the right data and be able to use it in the first place.


“This trust thing is not as obvious as it should be in the public sector. A lot of people mistrust or distrust their government, and that’s why one of our trends is about trust.” 


And this trust needs to be present not just between people and their governments, but also between governments and other organisations, says de Neef. This is because the ability to cross reference different sources of data increases the possibilities for public good exponentially. 


What this could look like on the ground would be piecing together the following information: 

  • A student and their siblings are often late for school, and not doing well in class
  • Some members of their family visit the emergency department frequently 
  • There have also been reports of antisocial behaviour happening in their neighbourhood 

Bringing all three together, there is a chance that a child or adult in that household is at risk of domestic abuse, and someone can be sent to provide the right support,” explains de Neef. But this can only happen when citizens, governments, and organisations trust each other with their data. 


The Essex Partnership did just this. This pilot programme ran from 2017 to 2020 and brought together data from councils, the police, and health and voluntary community organisations in Essex, UK. 


The project explored how organisations could safely and ethically use the power of data and machine learning to help tackle some of the world’s most challenging social issues, including domestic abuse, obesity, homelessness, or single-living elderly.  


The result was the Essex Centre for Data Analytics, a public platform that provides resources, support, to encourage data sharing for public good. 


Solving technology gaps with technology


The Perspectives* report also highlighted the cost of living crisis that has taken precedence over almost everything else. 


“This is not a technology trend, but it is so big that we wanted to forget about technology for a second, because this is going to impact decision making and public spending almost as much as Covid-19 did,” de Neef continues. 


This is especially important when considering the existing digital divide – the unequal distribution of access to and proficiency in digital technologies. Those who have proficiency and access to digital technologies may likely lead vastly different lives, and be given opportunities and access to information that those across the divide will not have. 


The term ‘digital divide’ may mean very different things for different people. These could be people who cannot afford technology or use it due to their disabilities, older people who are not as comfortable with using technology or those who have no access to technology because they live in remote areas. 


Without governmental intervention, the digital divide will exacerbate socio-economic inequalities and slow down economic growth. As much as 60 per cent of the global GDP now relies on digital communication technologies, yet a third of the global population –2.7 billion people – remains disconnected from the internet


To address this, two main things must happen. The first is to expand connectivity infrastructures to people living outside cities. 


The second is to make people, including the elderly or visually impaired, feel more comfortable with technology. This can be done using technology itself, de Neef says. Smart technologies that simplify more complex user interfaces such as Alexa or Siri will help bridge the gaps that most may not perceive. 


For instance, it is projected that in 2023, 14,4 per cent (3.53 million) people in the UK will struggle with fuel poverty – the inability to afford to heat their own homes. Maryhill Housing in Scotland fitted monitors for temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. 


Without needing tenants to learn much about the technology, this automation helps make heating systems more efficient, while allowing Maryhill Housing to easily identify vulnerable tenants who may be struggling with fuel poverty. 


Technology can also help bridge the gaps in care given to elderly and disabled communities, playing a big role in the healthcare sector’s shift to preventive care. 


The Sydney Local Health District, for example, opened its first virtual hospital in New South Wales in 2020. This allowed elderly patients to be monitored and cared for 24/7 within the comforts of their own home, while giving peace of mind to their carers – all while reducing healthcare costs and expanding capacities for hospitals. 


“There are so many examples of how smart technology is now transforming lives for citizens around the globe,” de Neef continues. “But by using the latest technology, we are now able to, and must find new and smarter ways to, give citizens the best public services they both need and deserve for the future”. 

Also read: How innovative design is powering up Singapore’s digital government delivery