Eight ideas for things we need to do now to ensure that our digital future delivers on its promises of more and better access for all and services that will support innovation, equity, and a better quality of life.
All too often, today’s digital services are still shrouded in complex interactions that require technical knowledge, a hefty time investment, or access to specific types of devices. How many of us know an older relative who struggled to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine appointment, despite the life-and-death importance of this service? We should be designing digital services that work better for a broader audience. Imagine being able to call a public services portal and say, “I need help finding housing,” or “I need a small business loan,” and then get tailored help finding the resources you need. Imagine being able to text a number for “free clinics near me.” We need to put more services online, build them in ways that make the essential content accessible from many different devices, and leverage data to ensure the paths for delivery align with real-world demand.
Here’s what we need to do:
- Move away from the “tyranny of screens” toward voice-based service interactions. Don’t make possession of a laptop or smartphone a prerequisite for accessing vital information and services. Design smart systems that can work with just a telephone call or, if need be, via text message. The banking industry is forging ahead with voice-based technology, pioneering security measures that have even enabled payments using voice commands. Public sector agencies can build on these advances. There is also increasing research to suggest that reliance on screens is taking a toll on vision and health, so breaking free may also provide health benefits for the larger population.
- Require cell carriers to enable public access wifi hotspots wherever they provide routers and equipment, as well as public hotspots for use via encrypted means. Piggybacking on existing infrastructure can increase access almost immediately.
- Eliminate the cost of gigabit speed internet connectivity to schools, public libraries, municipalities, and places of worship and give them access to secure enterprise-grade routers. For minimal cost, these community hubs can come to function as satellite locations for vital services and outreach, as well.
- Create a Business Quick Start user path that provides easy access to all the forms needed to get a business up and running. Remove logistical barriers to innovation and diversification of our small business economy.
- Fund state benefits portals that provide an easy-to-browse summary of all the benefits an applicant may be eligible for. Make these portals accessible by a wide range of devices and interfaces.
- End proprietary barriers to service innovation. Anything electronic/software/IoT sold to a government, including software or electronics with firmware must have its source code disclosed to that entity, and a public license to re-use as that entity sees fit.
- Create digital bank accounts designed to meet today’s real-world needs. Block-chain based accounts designed could be universally accessible and secure.
- Accelerate payment transactions to real time. Holds and processing time are holdovers from old technologies. Real-time transactions can open new avenues for innovation and financial participation.