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The citizen contract of the 21st century: a paradigm shift in the citizen experience

Many factors today have turned the citizen into a consumer: the burden of debt and the growing role of taxation in the functioning of modern States, the information and growing demands of people where they behave as customers with demands and expectations and the capacity for direct expression have increased tenfold thanks to the new media….

Not that the fundamentals of the Social Contract, as established by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his famous work published in 1762, are being called into question. Sovereignty remains the popular thing (etymologically, democracy means power to the people), and individuals continue to aspire to a just social organization. This is based on a covenant that guarantees their rights, and they rely on institutions designated, in the case of a democracy, by their vote to exercise their civil liberty.

The aspirations and demands of citizens for new, more horizontal forms of exercising power and for greater participation in public affairs are there. And, within democracies, they increasingly weigh more and more in the electoral sequences. The growing role of social networks amplify the voice of the individual, the information channels, continues to radically modify the exercise of political authority. Whether it is for leaders subject to an obligation to achieve results and a duty to set an example, or for citizens who have become much more active through expression and initiative than mere sideline sports commentators…

A serious amendment must therefore be made to our social contract, to make it a 21st century citizen’s contract in line with this great turning point.

The consequences of this paradigm shift

Adequate tools are necessary, otherwise frustrations will be entrenched, fuelling an already strong mistrust of the population towards their elected representatives and elites.

The sites of digital and e-commerce leaders, today mainly American and Chinese, are high-performance service platforms. They put the satisfaction and comfort of their visitors at the service of a commercial purpose, the shopping cart. Since in both cases “buy” and “use” are synonymous, these sites are can be a model for administrations. States will therefore gain from using them for several reasons, without losing sight of the specificities of their public service mission:

  • The design of their ergonomics and interface.
  • The design of the modalities and the path of access to information and services.
  • The way in which the various services are presented and used;
  • Means of communication and dialogue with the public officials concerned.
  • Finally, the collection of behavioural data makes it possible to continuously improve the service and to propose innovations for the benefit of users.

    A client-centred approach represents a shift in thinking – government services are often designed and delivered by focusing on the internal structure of government and its vertical bureaucratic silos rather than on the often cross-cutting and event-driven needs of citizens.

    Citizens interacting with government should not have to understand and navigate through a complex hierarchy of departments, agencies and offices to receive information or services. Wherever possible, they should feel that they are interacting with a connected, single-window entity, rather than a maze of divided and isolated organizations.

    A holistic approach to modernizing the customer experience will surely tend to maximize improvements along the citizen’s journey in line with the events of his or her life.

    Because even if we take the citizen’s experience as a customer experience, it must constantly evolve. First of all, because digital and the Internet are making more and more people citizens of the world. Second, because governments are increasing their inventiveness to attract investors, high net worthy individuals and, above all, the best digital entrepreneurs to create value in their countries. The Estonian E-residency started the ball rolling in 2014, and since then the programmes have flourished, as in Rwanda, where they have enabled an incredible ecosystem of start-ups to emerge. So, we might as well offer them a competitive customer experience, as these talents are being courted and their proven ability to share their eventual dissatisfaction in the public sphere.

    Administration Managers find themselves under pressure. They have to develop their systems under the influence of satisfaction indicators aligned with private sector practices and therefore new for them – a development that is part of the process of becoming a sustainable part of the landscape of the functioning of the State. And this citizen satisfaction is key to citizen engagement, an engagement which – if it increases – will give its users even more power and capacity for initiative…

    These are the States faced with a phenomenon of dispossession, an imperative to gradually share the exercise of some of their prerogatives with individuals. Having become “citizen centric”, it is logical that public services should in future be a genuine co-creation.

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