How can digital government connect citizens without leaving the disconnected behind?

Arnauld Bertrand

EY Global Government & Public Sector Consulting Leader

Working with governments to build stronger administrations for impactful public policies. Passionate about leading teams to guide public performance, innovation and service.

Julie McQueen

EY Global Government & Infrastructure Lead Analyst - EY Knowledge

Lead Analyst with deep knowledge in public sector and social research, strategy and thought leadership. Passionate about improving public services to create positive social impact.

20 minute read 19 Jun 2023

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Without a deeper understanding of people’s relationships with technology, governments risk disconnecting as many citizens as they connect.

In brief
  • There is a broad appetite among citizens for more digitally enabled public services and many want to have more of a say in how they should be delivered.
  • But a large minority of citizens lack the skills or means to access digital services.
  • The challenge for government is to harness data and technology to become more efficient and effective, without disadvantaged groups being left further behind.  

Driven by advances in communications technology and a growing appreciation of our interdependence, the world has become far more connected. At the same time, technological changes, demographic shifts, the climate emergency, rising inequality and rapidly changing values have contributed to a much more complex and uncertain environment for governments. Just as they were adapting to these challenges, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a huge shock and brought further instability to individuals, communities and economies.

In the midst of crisis, people have looked to government to protect lives and livelihoods. This has left public policy and service delivery under unprecedented pressure.

Balancing the fiscal, economic and social pressures facing governments, in ways that lead to better outcomes for citizens, requires a deep understanding of how the upheaval of recent years has shaped the views of citizens. How do they view their lives? What do they think of the services they receive from government? Are they ready for government to use more data and technology in the delivery of public services? How do the responses differ across socioeconomic groups?

EY has embarked on a major new research program — Connected Citizens — to better understand how people’s lives are changing in the connected world. The study explores what people value, what concerns them most and how they feel about the technological advances that are shaping our lives. A key goal is to examine their expectations of the role of government and public services, and the nature of the relationship between those who govern and those who are governed.

The quest for answers to these questions began with a global survey of citizens.

  • About the Connected Citizens research

    Ipsos MORI conducted online interviews with 12,100 participants of working age across 12 countries globally between July 2020 and September 2020. Quotas were set by age, gender, region and working status in order to achieve a representative sample in each country. Data was weighted by age, gender, region, work status and education. Ipsos MORI created a segmentation model based on the acquired data, which resulted in the creation of seven segments. We then assigned each segment an identity or “persona.” Each persona reflects several dimensions, including demographic profile, personal values, life satisfaction and priorities, attitudes toward technology and innovation, engagement with government and public services, and future outlook.

Analysis of the survey data has enabled us to define seven distinct citizen personas: Diligent Strivers, Capable Achievers, Privacy Defenders, Aspirational Technophiles, Tech Skeptics, Struggling Providers and Passive Outsiders. Each group interacts differently with technology and digital services, and each holds different lessons for how government can embrace the opportunity to better engage with citizens. We then recommend four priority areas for governments: agile and innovative policymaking, inclusive digitalization, responsible use of data, and public participation and engagement.

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(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 1

The age of the hyper-connected citizen

We are on an unstoppable path toward digital adoption, but concerns about fairness and access remain.

Just as many businesses use vast marketing resources to research their customer base, we believe that the starting point for any government is to better understand its citizens’ changing needs, behaviors, values and expectations. That is the impetus behind Connected Citizens (see “About the research” for the methodology). 

While we didn’t set out to examine the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, the timing influenced citizens’ satisfaction with their quality of life across all the countries surveyed.

Citizens are reporting lower life satisfaction


of respondents were satisfied with their quality of life before the pandemic.


of respondents say they are satisfied with their quality of life at present.

People are most concerned about their basic needs being met, such as access to high-quality health care and feeling safe in their community. But, unsurprisingly, in the current environment, the state of the economy and job security feature prominently on their list of worries. Almost half of the respondents are concerned about financial security (ranging from 37% in India to 60% in Malaysia), while 37% cite “having a secure and well-paid job” and “living in a country with a strong economy.”

A more pervasive role for technology

One of the most striking consequences of the pandemic has been the increasing reliance on technology in our daily lives. In the space of just a few months, we’ve seen how it has transformed the way people work, play, shop, learn and socialize. And our survey reveals that, in future, most people expect to make even more use of technology than if the pandemic had not happened. Among citizens surveyed, 64% believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the use of technology in our daily lives, with some of the developing countries showing the most widespread expectation of increased technology use.

People see technology as instrumental in improving many aspects of their lives. But while governments have accelerated the shift toward the digitalization of many public services, they continue to lag behind services provided by the private sector, such as online shopping and banking, in terms of expected improvements in service provision (although health care services are viewed more positively).

These lower expectations may reflect recent experience. Globally, only around half of citizens (53%) think governments and public services have effectively used digital technology to respond to the pandemic. However, perceptions differ markedly across countries: 88% of citizens in Malaysia and 80% of citizens in India said their governments had leveraged technology effectively, compared with just 36% in France and 29% in Japan.

Clearly, governments still have some way to go on their digital journey to meet the expectations of the people they serve.

Broader concerns about the impact of technology

Despite its more pervasive role in people’s lives, our survey revealed complex attitudes toward technology. Most people (about 72% of citizens surveyed globally) believe it makes life better, and that it will be needed to help solve increasingly complex future problems. But there are concerns about its broader impact. These include, for example: 

  • Widening social inequality: Often, the most disadvantaged citizens are unable to afford access to new technology and lack the digital literacy skills to use it. The use of algorithmic decision-making, with potential for inherent bias, is another risk. Globally, almost one-third of citizens (32%) think the benefits of technology will not be equally spread across different groups in society. And 34% think technology gives more power to those who are already rich and powerful.
  • Loss of human interaction: The increasing reliance on technology as a means of communication is causing concerns about the impact on social cohesion. Globally, 32% of citizens think technology will make people feel less connected to their community. In a more virtual world, some of the most vulnerable groups may become more isolated through the loss of physical support networks. 
  • The potential encroachment on personal privacy and digital security: As more people and devices are connected, the volume and variety of data created, and the speed at which it is gathered, will increase. This is creating public anxiety around personal privacy and lack of control over how people’s data is used. More than 4 in 10 citizens are against the sharing of data, both within government and with private sector companies. Almost three-quarters (72%) are opposed to government selling their personal data to a private sector company even if it’s to raise money that can fund better public services or tax cuts.

Some of these concerns may stem from a perception that the speed of technological development is simply too fast. While some are excited and empowered by technology, others are overwhelmed and anxious. Is technology being shaped by government and society or is technology shaping government and society? In some cases, it is just too early to understand the benefits and risks of some emerging technologies.

However, governments will need to get ahead of these concerns if they are to harness the potential of data and technology. Low technology adoption rates can weaken countries’ economies, their ability to compete internationally and hence their future prosperity. Data-driven approaches within government are also needed to understand citizens’ needs, target services proactively, evaluate complex public policies and deliver better outcomes for citizens in a more cost-effective way.

Globally, almost one-third of citizens (32%) rank more use of digital technologies in the provision of public services as one of the top three priorities for governments to improve the quality of services. But improving access to and supporting people to become more comfortable and competent with technology will be critical. The survey revealed widespread support among citizens for government skills programs aimed at helping people to use and understand new technologies: 61% of survey respondents said they would be likely to use government training schemes to improve their digital skills, if available. The level of interest varies across countries, from 39% in Japan to 83% in India.

Governments can also do more to clarify the benefits of sharing data and show citizens that it will be used in responsible ways. The survey shows that there is some support for using data when people are clear about the use case and it offers some benefits to themselves or society. This is particularly the case when it relates to public health. For example, using personal data to help track and prevent disease (supported by 52% of citizens globally) or to set priorities for local health services (supported by 48%).

Another challenge for government is the trust deficit with citizens. Although satisfaction with public services is generally good (especially for health, education and local services), trust in national and local governments is significantly lower (33% and 36% respectively). The global figures mask significant differences across countries. Trust in national government ranges from 63% in India and 46% in Australia; 29% in France, 27% in the UK, and 26% in the US; to just 19% in South Africa and 18% in Mexico.

Building trust in government institutions will be vital to the task of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, and harnessing the efforts of citizens to help design and deliver better services.

Citizens have a strong appetite for more engagement with government 

Clearly, there is a willingness and appetite for citizens to get more involved in public service delivery in the future. More than a third cite better transparency in performance as one of the top priorities for improving the quality of public services, so they can hold governments to account. And 42% would like to have a bigger say in or be more actively involved in, or are already actively involved in, public service delivery in their local area.

(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 2

Seven citizen personas illustrate the diversity of people’s lives

Understanding these personas can help governments build a more trusted relationship with citizens.

The survey results reveal the complexity of attitudes, values, needs and behaviors of citizens across the world. The data has helped uncover seven different citizen personas that governments will need to engage in the future.

Seven Connected Citizens personas

  • Diligent Strivers

    Young proactive self-improvers keen to get on in life. They expect seamless digital government services to help them achieve their aims and are comfortable sharing their data with governments. They believe strongly in equal opportunities for all.

  • Capable Achievers

    Independent, successful and satisfied with their life. They are pragmatic technophiles who embrace digital innovation. They trust governments to use their data appropriately, but worry about it getting into the wrong hands.

  • Privacy Defenders

    Tend to be older, independent and comfortably off. They value technology and the benefits it provides to them, but are extremely cautious when it comes to sharing their personal data with government or private companies.

  • Aspirational Technophiles

    Younger well-educated city-dwellers. Motivated by success and new opportunities, they incorporate technology and data into every facet of their lives. They are excited by the potential for new digital innovations to empower people and improve society.

  • Tech Skeptics

    Older, on lower incomes and relatively dissatisfied with their lives. They are distrustful of government and skeptical about the benefits of technology. They tend to be opposed to data sharing, even if there is a clear purpose.

  • Struggling Providers

    Younger and tend to be in low-paid, less secure work. They are above-average users of welfare services. They are ambivalent toward technology, lacking the access and skills for it to make a big difference to their lives.

  • Passive Outsiders

    Have lower levels of income and education. They are detached from the connected world around them and generally reluctant to embrace change. They are relatively ambivalent on data sharing but tend to feel the risks outweigh the benefits.

They share many characteristics — but there are also key differences between them. And their presence varies significantly across countries.

One of the most striking differentiators among the personas is their attitudes to technology and digital service delivery. Although our survey respondents represent the online population, they have varying degrees of confidence in using new technology on their own. Seventy percent or more of Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X respondents say they are confident users, compared with 61% of older Baby Boomers. Yet, when we look across the seven segments, the difference is stark. Among Aspirational Technophiles, 87% are confident users, but the equivalent figure for Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers is just 46% and 40% respectively.

Similarly, there are significant differences across the segments in people’s attitudes toward sharing data. Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers and Diligent Strivers are significantly more comfortable with sharing their data to access a service or perform a transaction online, and with their data being shared across government and with private companies. But there are real concerns among Tech Skeptics and Privacy Defenders about the risks involved.

Why does this matter? Moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to service delivery toward greater personalization is crucial to improving public policy design, delivering more efficient and effective public services, and strengthening the relationship between government and citizens. For example, what happens to the Struggling Providers — who may need the most support — if digital channels are the only way to access some services? Could they miss out on services and opportunities, and see the structural inequality they suffer from get worse?

This is a critical consideration for governments as they move toward “digital by design” and “digital by default” approaches to service delivery. These personas can help governments ensure that digital services and data policies are properly designed for all the different groups.

(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 3

Four priorities for governments

Taking steps to meet the needs of citizens and engage them as coproducers of public value.

Governments can take a multipronged approach to addressing people’s needs, with a focus on four areas:

1. Agile and innovative policymaking

Governments could introduce more agile and innovative policies that target the concerns of different groups. For example:

  • New social safety net schemes for disadvantaged citizens on low incomes (such as guaranteed minimum income or universal basic income), and social investment approaches that can help governments project ahead the needs of the population and take preventative action before crises occur.
  • New policies to tackle income insecurity for those in precarious work, such as the self-employed and gig economy workers, including clearer rules around employment status and rights; and portable benefits plans to maintain coverage as workers move geographically, between employers, or through periods of unemployment or self-employment.
  • More agile, and lifelong, education and retraining programs that help workers remain relevant and competitive; skills road maps that help governments understand the skills and jobs that are needed in the future, and personal learning accounts that offer workers the funds to reskill; and active labor market policies (ALMPs) to help unemployed and low-income workers find jobs or retrain.
  • Measures to improve the pension system, including encouraging people to take active ownership of their retirement planning; providing simpler and more flexible plans linked to better advice and guidance; and increasing incentives or even passing laws that encourage greater private sector contributions to pension costs.

2. Inclusive digitalization

Digitalization is needed to deliver the rapid transformation of public services that will provide citizens the same level of service they get from the private sector. But they must do this in a way that levels up society and ensures that no groups are left behind.

Investment in high-speed digital infrastructure, including broadband and 5G networks, must provide connectivity in all parts of a country. Governments can also help provide devices (such as laptops and tablets) to get people online and run programs to improve people’s digital literacy so they have the skills and confidence to interact with digital services. But they will also need to ensure that those who are not digitally connected have alternative ways of accessing services.

Citizens already confident with technology have heightened expectations for service delivery, in terms of quality, speed, convenience and value for money. Governments can meet the needs of these citizens through several measures:

  • Unique digital IDs that allow citizens to gain easier access to a range of services through multiple digital channels
  • Smart portals and mobile apps that provide one-stop access to multiple government services, as well as push timely messages and updates
  • “Tell us once” services so people don’t have to refill their personal data online for different government transactions
  • Integrated digital platforms that enable data sharing across different government systems, to create a complete view of the citizen and organize services around people’s needs and life events
  • Full, digital end-to-end fulfilment of service requests that enable speedier delivery
  • Conversational platforms, such as AI-powered chat bots, to interact with citizens, rapidly resolve queries and complete transactions
  • A true omnichannel experience, allowing people to access services on a variety of platforms using a range of devices

Design thinking, customer experience labs and data analytics will help governments design their services to make each touchpoint better, faster and more efficient, and to move toward more proactive and even predictive service delivery.

3. Responsible use of data

We’re producing and storing more data than ever before and now there are tools to analyze them for the public good.

But the increased use of data is also sparking debate and controversy. New regulatory, legal and governance frameworks are needed that allow countries to capitalize on the opportunities, while at the same time manage the potential risks for citizens. For instance, policymakers will need to take a hard look at issues, such as data privacy, surveillance technology, the inequities embedded in algorithms and the integrity of the information ecosystem.

Governments are already strengthening regulations governing the use of people’s personal data. And some governments are going further with legal frameworks that give people a level of active control over their data and the right to know what is being done with it.

Regulators must also consider how organizations are using data in their AI systems. There’s a new awareness among the wider population about the problems with algorithmic decision-making, where it has led to poor decision-making or discrimination against certain groups. The regulatory environment must build trust in these evolving new technologies.

At the institutional level, governments, public service providers, businesses and other organizations will need transparent governance structures to demonstrate how people’s data rights are safeguarded. For example, protocols can be created to define the purpose and basis for data sharing. Organizations could also commit to disclosing the automated decision systems they use, their purpose and the safeguards in place.

As more organizations embrace these good practices in ethical design and governance, governments will be better equipped to mitigate risks, safeguard against harmful outcomes and build the trust that is needed to maximize the potential benefits of data.

4. Public participation and engagement

In the future, top-down models of governance will no longer be seen as legitimate or efficient. Many citizens expect decision-making to be shared, open and participatory.

Governments have an opportunity to engage citizens on the issues they care about. New digital e-participation tools, such as social media, mobile apps and online digital platforms, allow them to collect input from citizens on a large scale, providing insights to enrich government policy and decision-making.

But governments can ensure that people are not just consulted but empowered to shape the decisions that affect them. Many are experimenting with different models for engagement to identify, debate and decide on a wide range of topics. Deliberative citizens’ juries, for example, have been used in Australia, Ireland and other countries to cocreate solutions to complex social and economic challenges.

There is growing interest in participatory budgeting initiatives that allow citizens to decide how to allocate public budgets. More than 180 policy labs have been set up globally to incubate ideas and provide a testing bed for policies in areas such as education, health and justice. And government-organized hackathons have proved an effective way to engage people in finding fresh solutions to the economic, social and technological challenges posed by COVID-19.

Most governments and public authorities across the world are launching open data initiatives and setting up data exchange platforms. The focus is on making data widely available to third parties, including citizens, to help develop new solutions to complex problems while improving transparency and accountability.

All of these efforts will be vital initiatives that help governments better serve all the citizens in our connected world.

Get to know your Connected Citizens

Advances in data and technology afford governments a unique opportunity to better serve their citizens. But as with any transformative opportunity, there is an inherent risk: that an ambition to digitalize as much and as quickly as possible results in a one-size-fits-all approach that actually fits only a few constituents, leaving many further disconnected from government – physically and attitudinally. Studying the seven Connected Citizens personas will help governments plan digital service delivery mechanisms that cater for each of their different needs. By doing so, governments can become more effective and more efficient, address digital exclusion to help reduce social inequality – and help build a more equitable, better, working world for all.


Many citizens are open to more data- and technology-enabled public services, and more engagement in how services are designed and delivered. This creates an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between governments and the people they serve, and renew the levels of trust that are vital to effective government. And it sets a challenge to prevent digitally excluded groups from being left behind. Innovative policy design, inclusive digitalization, better use of data and participatory engagement with citizens will be important for governments to respond effectively.

About this article

Arnauld Bertrand

EY Global Government & Public Sector Consulting Leader

Working with governments to build stronger administrations for impactful public policies. Passionate about leading teams to guide public performance, innovation and service.

Julie McQueen

EY Global Government & Infrastructure Lead Analyst - EY Knowledge

Lead Analyst with deep knowledge in public sector and social research, strategy and thought leadership. Passionate about improving public services to create positive social impact.