In the next few years, Norway will start noticing the impact of the ageing population: more people will be chronically ill and relatively fewer will be in the workforce. At the same time, the revenue from oil and gas will decline.
– The golden age of the Norwegian economy will soon be over. It is necessary to find new ways to organise ourselves in order to maintain our good welfare services. Digital technology provides such opportunities, says Tore Tennøe, Director of the Norwegian Board of Technology.
In the report “This time it’s personal – The digital shift in the public sector”, The Norwegian Board of Technology points out three fundamental opportunities in digitalisation for the public administration and services.
- Participating citizens. Interactive technologies such as the smartphone and the Internet of Things not only enable citizens to use public services, but also allow them to participate in the design and delivery of these services. For example, individuals with chronic illnesses can take measurements themselves, and thus get a better service while relieving the burden on health services.
- Personalised services. New public data provide more in-depth knowledge of each citizen, opening the way for public service delivery tailored to the specific needs of the individual citizen. When Amazon and Netflix manage customise customer needs, why should not the state also do it? Smart teaching materials in schools can provide each pupil with customised teaching and closer monitoring.
- Predictive institutions: More extensive use of data analysis in public institutions turns public services towards prevention, and away from reaction and remedial action. Such technology is increasingly being used in private enterprises, and the public sector should follow. For example, the Norwegian Tax Administration can carry out targeted checks by using predictive models that identify tax issues with high probability of errors.
Several countries are already doing it
– When we worked on the report, we looked at how different countries use technology to experiment with new types of services, says Tore Tennøe.
In Queensland, Australia, several hospitals have used a computer program that based on the hospital’s historical data and predictive modelling, can predict how many patients are expected to be admitted to the emergency department on a given day, what kind of health professionals that are needed and how many beds that are likely to be available.
In Germany the Federal Employment Service has developed personalised services to improve the quality of its services. They have analysed historical data about its users, what measures were taken to find work for jobseekers, what results these measures gave and how long it took to get appropriate work. The objective was to provide advice, measures and a work placement that were customised to the individual jobseeker’s knowledge and needs. The purpose is to provide personalised assistance to the individual.
In the United States, the New York City fire department annually controls more than 25,000 buildings they suspect have serious fire safety errors. Based on data analysis of the city’s building stock and risk factors, the fire department prioritised the order of the buildings they control. Previously, they found serious errors in 21 percent of the top fourth of the list. Now this figure has risen to 70 percent.
Trust is important
The Norwegian welfare state enjoys high public trust, Tennøe points out.
– However, that could change very quickly when we arrive at a digital crossroad. Therefore we need to ask some important questions such as:
If the citizens are to provide the services themselves, will they be willing to pay as much tax?
Are algorithms used to offer support and possible choices, or do they stigmatise individuals or groups within society?
The Norwegian Board of Technology recommends several policy approaches to what Norway can do to facilitate the transition to a digital public sector, while ensuring that we avoid most of the pitfalls: «The DIY state”, more experimenting in the public sector and a digital community contract.