Swedish authorities’ digital services are not user-friendly enough
Sweden continues to lag behind when it comes to public sector digitalisation. Through more user-oriented service development, public digital services can become much better say Anders Persson, digital expert at PA Consulting, and Tomas Källberg, public sector specialist at PA Consulting.
In the OECD’s latest review from 2019, Sweden ended up at the bottom of the table among a total of 38 countries ranked in terms of their ability to develop user-friendly digital public services. In the EU’s e-government index (2023), the result was slightly better, but here too, Sweden was last among the Nordic and Baltic countries, while we have dropped from first to sixteenth place since 2015.
Unnecessarily complicated digital services
In practice, this means that Swedish citizens and entrepreneurs have to spend more unproductive hours understanding complicated services than their counterparts in, for example, Denmark and Estonia. This can mean that business ideas and projects have time to become obsolete and end up being shelved. In other words, inadequate services have consequences for productivity and growth.
The Government’s goal in its simplification policy is to reduce the regulatory burden for Swedish companies compared with the rest of the world. Sweden’s declining position in the rankings suggests the opposite is happening. In PA Consulting’s own global study from last year, Government Responsive Index, 1,796 leaders, managers and officials were asked about their own organisation’s agility. Half of the respondents in the study say that their own organisation lacks a standardised process for service development that includes the end users. Similar conclusions were also drawn in the Swedish National Audit Office’s audit of public services from 2023.
So why is it like this? Swedish government agencies are investing significant resources in digitalisation in the form of smart design solutions and methods for service development. But design and methods do not have an impact on operations and service development itself. In some cases, governance is a problem when the design is determined by authorities and legislative requirements rather than by the needs of the users.
Different agencies design their services in different ways, which leads to dispersed services and makes coordination more difficult. Citizens and entrepreneurs therefore need to familiarise themselves with how each public service works. In other countries, the services are largely standardised as they are expected to work in similar ways.
The Responsive Government Survey also points out that leadership in the public sector overestimates its own ability to lead digital transformation. An insufficient ability to translate governance into operational activities and coordinate between different functions is likely to inhibit the development of smarter services.
The good news is that it’s relatively obvious how services can be significantly improved in the long run. We would like to make a number of recommendations, addressed to the Government Offices and responsible authorities, to improve processes and end results:
Steer towards user-centricity
Make it easier for the authorities in developing services by offering a higher degree of standardised services. Here, CSI measurements and follow-ups can be the tools that enable comparisons. Let us learn from the UK, which requires all public services to use certain design principles.
Develop leadership skills
Ensure that the Director-General and other leaders in the agency understand how to steer towards simple digital contacts. Also offer structures for analysing and prioritising based on the benefits and effects of services. Enable leaders to set requirements for service development based on national design principles.
Replace today’s control culture with a service culture
Intensify efforts to develop a culture of service rather than control at our agencies. In this way, we can give the user perspective a bigger role in the development of digital services.
Use agile ways of working and methodologies
Use established and accepted methods such as user testing. Build iterative design processes where users are continuously involved and use prototypes and mock-ups to visualise and validate design ideas.
Customize for your users
The shortcomings in the digitalisation of public services in Sweden lead to inefficiencies and risk contributing to reduced trust in the public sector as a whole. The services that citizens and entrepreneurs encounter on a daily basis must be adapted to their users. Let’s do what we know is right and take back the leader's jersey.