Public Sector leading with true Citizen Experience

5 min read

The public sector has spent 20 years slowly crawling towards ‘digital transformation’. They’ve ended up a decade behind. COVID-19 has really shone a light on this gap and now is the time for the real leap forward. We can’t afford another 20 years of the public sector sliding further and further behind the technology curve, when every NZ citizen needs better access to public services now.

To be fair we have seen some improvements in digitally-led customer experience (CX) in the past decade, that has seen them put their front shop window online, a good fundamental mix of brochureware, in which websites became a content repository for users to learn about key functions and tasks, perhaps get in touch and maybe fill out a form or 2.

But the truly successful organisations around the world over this time have delivered a digital-first approach to customer experience. Where customers' expectations moved to a fully integrated digital experience, driven by the rise of mobile, content on the go, and ‘I’ll engage with you when I want to’ have become the norm. The private sector world moved at speed to deliver highly disruptive online product-based companies like AirBnb, Uber and our own XERO overnight reducing the need for high touch comms and face to face interactions to engage with their services.

It’s 2020, a once in a century global pandemic hits and here we are again and a decade later from the last big public sector digital upgrade having to play catch up to meet the needs of their customers.

For the public sector to play catch up with customer experience (or in this case, Citizen Experience) it needs to be underpinned by a few points of focus:

Moving Services online

Where possible create for full digital integration of their service offerings, whether this is paying for a public transport pass, completing a dog registration, or booking an appointment with a health specialist. All led by a human-centered design approach, getting out of inward-looking silos of an organisation and understanding citizens, their citizen journey, and their needs - this is about them, not the public sector’s limitations.

Personal Data and Privacy

In some form, if you’re looking to build a citizen experience from the ground up, personal data and privacy will play a big part. Getting these absolutely right will be paramount, there are privacy law reform changes ahead, prior to COVID-19, NZ was set for their largest shift in privacy in the past 27 years.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s (OPC) Privacy Bill(external link) is currently at the Committee of whole house phase, before the Third and final reading before this is confirmed into Law.

The new requirements make it mandatory to report data breaches: If agencies have a privacy breach that poses a risk of harm, it must notify the people affected and the Commissioner. Public sector organisations will need to ensure environments that house personal data are designed, architected, built and most importantly tested (by an accredited by AoG 3rd parties) to ensure best practice.

Any slips ups in any form will only dilute the trust of citizens and lead to a reduced adoption of public sector digital services.


Everyone in New Zealand needs access to digital services.

We have to get accessibility right, because for a long time we’ve been half-arsing it and pretending it’s not that important. COVID’s put a stop to that. We now have to work on the timetable of reality, not public sector machinery. NZ Population estimates have close to a quarter of the NZ population being 65yrs or older in 2043, and we can expect, based on the 2013 disability survey, that around 60% of that age bracket will have accessibility issues.

The public sector needs to bench the project vanity features to ensure we design products to engage with everyone, including our most vulnerable. 


During a crisis, there’s no better time than now for the public sector to step back, take stock, and remember its true purpose - to deliver the best for its citizens.

A truly digitally-led customer (citizen) experience that's designed in true partnership with every New Zealander in mind is the legitimate pathway forward.

If you’d like to talk with us about how we’re leading the charge with digitally-led citizen experiences please get in touch.


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by Aaron Scott