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8 strategies to fully reimagine digital government human services

The childcare pinch highlights how the public sector can deliver more, through human-centered digital transformations.

In brief
  • EY research into constituents’ needs and attitudes provides insights into how to serve them better.
  • Greater collaboration across agencies, particularly in sharing data, is possible through openness, dialogue and a future-focused approach.
  • While technology enables new ways of working, digital transformation must be informed by the needs of your workforce and constituents.

Delivery of government human services programs has traditionally been a labor-intensive, manual process taking precious hours of time from both the applicant and the case worker. Individuals were forced to visit the local office to fill out a paper application, wait for the caseworker to key the information into a system, and then, and only then, could the employee focus on having a meaningful conversation with the applicant. There has been much commiseration about these manual processes and inefficiencies over the years, and much has been done to overcome the burdensome approach.

Many government agencies have made tremendous strides in modernizing systems and processes to alleviate these burdens. Many agencies are still in the midst of this journey. But the pandemic accelerated the implementation of digital services, particularly for government and agencies were forced to redefine the way in which services are provided.

The word “interoperability” became the slogan for service delivery. Together, we thought of ways to enhance the user experience, ultimately providing a focused and efficient interaction between caseworkers and applicants. We continued to hear more positivity toward a universal digital approach. We also knew that digital transformation required massive change management for the staff and the users, and we became keenly aware of the need to make sure that agencies continue to provide services for those that do not want to engage digitally with government for a variety of reasons. The art of the possible took center stage.

Multiyear EY research has revealed deep insights into US constituents’ needs and expectations when seeking government services. In 2021, Ernst & Young LLP released the Connected Citizens report, which detailed the personas of individuals who are likely to engage with government and how they choose to interact digitally. Understanding these personas is important as agencies continue to build more online and electronic services.

Childcare is one of the program areas that became subject to digital transformation and government human services and continues to evolve. Amid a historically tight labor market, parents continue to be challenged with limited access, affordability and uncertain quality. Childcare costs represent 8% to 19.3% of median family income per child, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the American Rescue Plan Act provided significant funding to childcare providers to fortify their networks, many were, and remain challenged to recruit and maintain workers and some still shutting their doors altogether. While the pandemic is hopefully in the rear-view mirror, it highlighted these issues and brought some innovation to service delivery, yet the conundrum is still far from over for American families.


Families continue to face a gauntlet of challenges to find basic resources, including parsing the varied eligibility requirements and completing highly repetitive applications. In fact, research shows that vital services are not reaching vulnerable children and families who could benefit from the other wraparound forms of support. Other benefits — such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); food assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); and cash assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) — are underutilized, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). If government could use additional innovation in digital technology — and enable transformations that keep humans at the center of their plans — those families could be connected to services efficiently and cost-effectively.


The second phase of Connected Citizens took a deep dive into the personas and focused on families with children under the age of 5. By understanding the personas and how these individuals want to digitally engage with government, the research found that there is still apprehension in moving to purely digital services. However, when the interviewees discovered that information was being shared for their benefit — to access multiple services and connect to available childcare agencies, with a clear line of sight to quality ratings, for example — the support was resounding. The research gives us insights into eight key priorities necessary for government to succeed in digital transformation.

Digital innovation continues to evolve. With a laser focus on these priorities, agencies can successfully implement digital transformation without leaving the disconnected behind.


Governments everywhere have a golden opportunity to use data and technology to make public services better. Yet many still have a program-centric, fragmented delivery model that prioritizes the efficiency of government processes over the model to serve. These eight priorities can reorient how and what government does, drawing on modern technologies and the most timeless of resources: human talent.

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