I reported some research from Belgium in the previous post, “Multi-channel engagement“. This proposed the reasons why we need to review the processes and involve the end users is designing systems, along with essentially why e-government to-date hasn’t been the promised success. Now it’s now time to turn to the Netherlands, and the University of Twente, and their research around why we need to consider all channels.
Fortunately, for those that want to access this batch of academic papers, the kind authors have made them publicly available.
In a paper from 2006 – van Deursen, A., van Dijk, J., Ebbers, W., Why E-government Usage Lags Behind: Explaining the Gap between Potential and Actual Usage of Electronic Public Services in the Netherlands – they give benchmarks and the technocentric view of e-government some hammer in their conclusion on page 279, stating that “Generally speaking, a supply orientation dominates European egovernment policy as exemplified by the benchmarks for e-government such as those offered by Accenture and the European Union. These benchmarks reveal a strong preference for the supply of the most advanced and extended electronic public services. The attention for the actual demand and usage of services by European citizens is only secondary, to put it mildly.” This conclusion is something I have frequently observed and agreed with in my own research and on this blog!
In a further paper from van Dijk, this time as Pieterson & van Dijk in 2006, Governmental Service Channel Positioning: History and Strategies for the Future, we are informed on p.53 that “Recent studies have shown that the arrival of the Internet has not led to a decrease in the usage of the telephone and the face-to-face service channel. Data from four different countries (Australia, Switzerland, Canada and the Netherlands) show that citizens keep using the telephone and face-to-face communication more often than the Internet in their service encounters with public organizations.” They then conclude on p.59 that “Recent studies have shown that even an Internet that is used by the majority of the population in particular countries has not mitigated the usage of the telephone and face-to-face service channels. On the contrary, in some cases Internet use has stimulated a (re)turn to call centers and service desks. This has raised doubts as to the effectiveness and efficiency of public electronic services.” In their case this leads to the proposition of “an integrated channel positioning approach”, a different solution from mine, but at at least a strategy considering all channels at the same time!
In a paper from the same pair in 2007, Willem Pieterson & Jan van Dijk “Channel choice determinants; an exploration of the factors that determine the choice of a service channel in citizen initiated contacts“, DG.O 2007: 173-182, the authors conclude that “However, when problems and/or tasks become more complex and ambiguous, the influence of habit declines and people are willing to put more effort in the decision making process. People often indicate to ‘always use the phone or the internet’, but when confronted with vague and/or complex problems, they are suddenly willing to consider going to the front desk or writing a letter.”
On this basis we shouldn’t have rushed to make every service application electronic, or if we do, don’t expect the other channels to dry up, since if they have a level of complexity or a trust requirement, the public will telephone or pay a visit anyway. So study your citizens and deliver what is appropriate. To adapt Karl Marx (Critique of the Gotha Programme) – to each according to their ability, to each according to their need…