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How a digital government can connect all residents

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, US residents focused on safety and financial security.

In brief

  • Americans want to increase their knowledge of and participation in local public services.
  • The private sector has outpaced American government and public sector services in joining digital ecosystems and creating digital journeys.
  • Most Americans are focused on basic needs and security as the foundation of one’s quality of life.

In a world contending with the impact of ongoing disruption, governments face increasingly difficult challenges as they seek to balance fiscal, economic and social pressures with the need to provide better outcomes for all, as well as those who live within national borders.

To help governments and public agencies gain a deeper understanding of how these upheavals are changing the public and its perceptions of government, EY has launched Connected Residents. This new initiative featured a global survey of residents in 12 countries to assess how their expectations of how government and public services are changing.

Given the events of the last few years, the survey asked a number of questions related to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, the survey found that amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, people said they were most concerned about whether their basic needs were being met, from access to high-quality health care to a sense of safety in their community.

The pandemic also accelerated our reliance on technology and that was reflected in the survey results, with 64% of the people responding to the global survey saying they expect to make even more use of technology in the future than if the pandemic had not happened. 

At the same time, while governments have accelerated the shift toward the digitalization of many public services, they continue to lag behind parts of the private sector, such as online shopping and banking, in terms of meeting expectations for online service delivery. Governments still have a way to go on their digital journey to bridge that gap, particularly in the US where they face additional challenges in their efforts to serve digitally engaged residents.

This article will touch on the challenges facing government in the US as we offer a detailed breakdown of the survey results.

Six key takeaways from the US findings

Most Americans are focused on basic needs and security as the foundation of one’s quality of life.

Not surprisingly, the global pandemic lowered satisfaction for many Americans, with a 16-point decline — from 76% to 60% — in the percentage of those who said they were they were satisfied with their quality of life. This carried across income segments, with only 50% of those in the lowest group saying they were satisfied. In the top income slot, satisfaction dropped from 90% to 69%. The pandemic crisis also placed basic needs top of mind for Americans. Across the board, they said financial security, safety and access to quality health care had the most important influences on their quality of life. Looking ahead, Americans said a strong national economy and secure, well-paid employment ranked closely behind.

Technology is playing a more pervasive role in American lives, but this doesn’t necessarily carry over to digital government services.

Americans have embraced technology. Nearly 95% say they are online every day: shopping, staying in touch with friends and following the news. While the majority anticipate that technology will have a positive impact on how they access entertainment and educate their children, few extend that optimism to improving their access to government and the public sector. Only 29% said they used the internet to access government services before the pandemic. (Would that percentage have remained the same during?)

In many ways, the private sector has outpaced American government and public sector services in joining digital ecosystems.


With technology, there is a tension between exciting possibilities and concerns about social pitfalls and privacy.

Some 71% of the Americans surveyed believe that technology makes life better. Almost as many (68%) also see a role for technology in helping to help solve future problems. However, many are split on the impact of technology on several topics. For example, on social inequality, one in three think technology will lead to greater inequality in society and elevate the influence of the already rich and powerful. On the other hand, a similar percentage, 33%, believe technology will lead to more equality. In addition, some 4 in 10 Americans (41%) believe technology companies should be subject to strong government regulation, while less than a quarter (23%) believe “technology companies should be free to operate as they see fit.” Many Americans are also concerned about privacy, with 48% saying they are uncomfortable sharing personal data online with the government.

Deficits in digitalization and trust show potential avenues to developing stronger relationships with residents.

While many Americans are still skeptical of online government services, some 35% say that making more use of online and digital technologies to provide public services should rank as one of the top three priorities for governments to improve quality of services. At the same time, they also expressed discomfort with giving government more access to personal data to improve efficiencies, particularly selling personal data to the private sector. Simply put, they lack overall trust in local and national government, with only 43% and 27%, respectively, saying they trust those institutions.

Americans want to increase their knowledge of and participation in local public services.

How can governments improve engagement and the digital journey?

To fully harness the potential of data and technology, governments in the US will need to overcome the concerns many residents have for going online to conduct business. The digital divide poses significant risks for the future of the US if certain segments of the population are left behind. To that end, governments will need to adopt data-driven approaches to better understand residents’ needs, target services proactively, evaluate complex public policies and deliver better outcomes for residents in a more cost-effective way.

Government entities in the US can also do more to clarify the benefits of sharing data and show residents that it will be used in responsible ways.

In addition, while many Americans favor digital technologies for accessing government services, they also prefer options like phone and in person. As a result, governments should avoid a “digital by default” approach and offer multiple channels to provide full and equal access. The survey also found greater acceptance for digital services when technology enables interaction between people.

At the same time, a growing percentage of Americans, particularly the young and affluent, are more comfortable with technology. To meet their expectations, US governments may want to consider the following:

  • Setting up unique digital IDs that allow residents to gain easier access to a range of services through multiple digital channels
  • Building smart portals and mobile apps that provide one-stop access to multiple government services, as well as push timely messages and updates
  • Establishing integrated digital platforms that enable data sharing across different government systems, to create a complete view of the resident and organize services around people’s needs and life events

US resident personas

As we analyzed the data, we defined seven distinct resident personas: Diligent Strivers, Capable Achievers, Privacy Defenders, Aspirational Technophiles, Tech Sceptics, Struggling Providers and Passive Outsiders.

Each group interacts differently with technology and digital services, with each holding different lessons and challenges for governments seeking to better engage with all residents. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for all the personas. That means digital governments will need to tailor outreach to meet the needs of not only the most technically sophisticated residents, but also those who for various reasons will struggle to access online services.

Residents Connected: US personas

Capable Achievers (20%)

Capable Achievers are independent, successful and satisfied with their lives. They are pragmatic technophiles who embrace digital innovation. They trust governments to use their data appropriately but tend to worry about it getting into the wrong hands. This group tends to be older, with 62% counted as baby boomers. They are also well-educated and enjoy high incomes. More than half live in large cities or urban areas.

They are primarily concerned about their own financial security, safety and having access to quality health care. They are also worried that may have to work past retirement age. They are generally in favor of digitalization of services, but, at the same time, are less likely to get involved in how new services are designed and run or in learning more about them.

They also welcome many digital innovations, such as video consultations with doctors or having their DNA analyzed for personalized medical treatment. At the same time, they are less comfortable with artificial intelligence (AI) that lacks human supervision or input, such as traveling in a fully autonomous vehicle.

Privacy Defenders (19%)

Privacy Defenders are older, independent and typically comfortably off. They value technology and the benefits it provides but exhibit more caution than other tech-friendly groups when it comes to sharing personal data with government or private companies.

Comprising primarily baby boomers and Gen X, they are generally satisfied with their lives, though this changed during the pandemic. While they are optimistic about their personal future, this doesn’t extend to their country or the wider world. They are most concerned about their financial security.

In general, they are financially prudent independent thinkers who like to learn new things, have meaningful experiences and live healthy lives.

They expressed average satisfaction with public services, but have significantly lower levels of trust in government and politicians.

They are generally pro-technology but are less convinced that technology will empower ordinary people or create a more equal society. True to their persona, they are extremely concerned about the risks of sharing their personal data.

Tech Sceptics (17%)

Tech Sceptics are older, often on lower incomes and relatively dissatisfied with their lives. They are distrustful of government and remain sceptical about the benefits of technology. They tend to oppose data sharing, even when there is a clear, compelling reason to do so. On average, they expressed a lower satisfaction with life. They are also pessimistic about the future.

They are primarily concerned about financial security, safety and access to health care.

They are infrequent users of public services, and while satisfied with health care services, they are less positive about other public services and generally mistrustful of government.

While they are open to accessing public services online, they prefer to use the phone and have higher-than-average preference for in-person contact. To that end, they are very uncomfortable with government using single digital resident IDs, especially if linked to their personal details.

They are also quite sceptical about the extent to which technology will have a positive impact on their lives or on society.

Aspirational Technophiles (15%)

Aspirational Technophiles are 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.

Life satisfaction is high and they said their quality of life was essentially unchanged by the pandemic. They are optimistic about their own future, which extends to the broader world as well. Even more, they believe life is getting better for each future generation.

Motivated by financial and social success, entrepreneurialism and the new opportunities, they are among the most frequent — and satisfied — users of public services. In fact, they typically trust government and public services.

They prefer to contact government via digital channels or phone. To that end, omnichannel access, a single portal and faster automated responses would improve their experience.

They also expect that technology will play a greater role in everyday life after the coronavirus pandemic and that this will change society for the better. They are much less concerned about data privacy than other groups.

Diligent Strivers (13%)

Diligent Strivers are young, proactive self-improvers keen to get on with life and get ahead. 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.

While generally optimistic, they experienced a significant dip in satisfaction with quality of life when the pandemic started. Still, most remain optimistic about their own future. They generally aspire to progress in life.

They believe in the importance of local community and equality of opportunity and have a relatively high level of trust in health care providers and public services compared with all Americans. While they expressed a below-average trust in national government, more trust local government.

They prefer to use a variety of channels to contact government, including by phone, website or email, but they favor greater digitalization of services to improve access and convenience.

They view technology as an enabler and nearly two-thirds are comfortable sharing their personal data with government to access services online or with private companies to perform transactions. This sentiment doesn’t extend to sharing personal data on social networking sites, however.

Passive Outsiders (10%)

Passive Outsiders have lower levels of income and education. They are detached from the connected world around them and are generally reluctant to embrace change. While they are relatively ambivalent about sharing data, they tend to believe the risks outweigh the benefits.

They reported lower levels of life satisfaction than the general population, both before and during pandemic. Generally low-touch users of public services, they are most likely to interact with health care or local services.

They also have little trust that government or public service providers will improve the lives of people like them. While they are open to accessing public services online, they would prefer to do so via phone, followed by website or in person. Only one in four support having a single digital ID.

Passive outsiders are also sceptical about the role of technology in making their lives better and are relatively limited in the type of technology they own, aside from a smartphone and laptop computer.

They are quite ambivalent about sharing their data and tend to feel that the risks outweigh the benefits. In addition, they are unlikely to embrace newer technologies when it comes to accessing public services.

Struggling Providers (6%)

Struggling Providers are younger and tend to be have low-paid, less-secure occupations. They are above-average users of welfare services and ambivalent toward technology. This is often due to a lack of access and the necessary tools for integrating it into their daily lives.

They expressed low satisfaction with their quality of life before the pandemic and as a result, experienced one of the smallest drops in satisfaction during the pandemic. They are anxious about their own future and about the world. Looking to the future, they cited work/life balance and safety as their highest concerns, with fighting poverty a priority outside their own family unit.

They are relatively low users of public services overall, particularly health care services. They also believe government should prioritize making more government and public services available online and improving digital access, and that government should provide online resources to help people learn new skills or look for employment.

They express equal preference for phone and email for connecting with government agencies to access services. Nearly one out of three prefer to conduct business in person.

They are interested in having a stronger say or even play an active role in how public services are delivered in their local area, with some reporting active involvement.


Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for providing improved access to digital services in the US. While taking steps to close the digital divide may help, for the immediate future, US governments will need to provide a broad range of options to provide access to all residents embarking on this digital journey.

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