e-Government the way Canadians want it

TORONTO — Increased use of e-government services doesn’t mean Canadians are prepared to hang up their telephones, a group of researchers warned the Showcase Ontario 2002 audience Wednesday.

Data collected from both national and provincial surveys indicate that citizens, particularly in Ontario,

are taking advantage of public sector Web sites and e-mail addresses much more often than they did two to five years ago. Over that same time period, however, the telephone has maintained its position as the primary channel by which people contact the government, and continues to be used in conjunction with Internet as an access tool.

“”Multi-channel service delivery is a reality whether we believe it or not,”” said Charles Vincent, who presented findings from a recent Canada-wide Institute for Citizen-Centered Service (ICCS) survey for the first time at Showcase Ontario, a four-day provincial IT conference.

More than half of the 7,728 citizens polled — 54 per cent — said they typically go through more than one channel when contacting the government or accessing a government service. This means they may call first, then get redirected to a Web site, for example. As that happens, Charles said citizen satisfaction typically decreases with each point of contact. “”That paints a picture . . . well, it’s a cause for concern for all of us in this room.””

The ICCS findings are consistent with the trends captured in an ongoing survey project, Rethinking the Information Highway, which research firm Ekos has been conducting since 1996. In the most recent data from last June, Ekos found that 42 per cent of Canadians used the phone to access their government versus 27 per cent who used the Internet. This is up considerably from 1997, when the split was 56 per cent/seven per cent, according to Ekos researcher Malcolm Saravanamuttoo.

Both studies suggested that awareness and ease of use may be a significant barrier to the further adoption of government electronic service delivery (ESD). It’s even a problem with the telephone: Charles said only 37 per cent of phone users managed to get access to a government department or service on the first try. On the other hand,respondents to the ICCS research said they were willing to wait until the next business day for a response to an e-mail inquiry, but weren’t willing to wait more than 30 seconds on the telephone.

Saravanamuttoo said government must ensure consistent quality of service across channels if citizens are to be satisified.

“”There can’t be a wrong door,”” he said. “”It just adds to the complexity.””

While Ekos and the ICCS looked at national statistics, the Ontario government has been conducting research of its own. In some cases, the results were slightly more positive in terms of citizen satisfaction using ESD. In terms of ease of use, 59 per cent of approximately 1,000 individuals and businesses said they turned to the phone, but Web sites were close behind at 58 per cent. This was followed by 54 per cent for e-mail as the preferred method of contact. Overall, 60 per cent of Ontarians said they were satisfied with the province’s ESD alternatives.

“”That really surprised us,”” said Management Board Secretariat representative Gary Brown, who presented the government’s findings. “”We really haven’t marketed it yet.””

Ontarians also put higher priority on what Brown called “”necessary”” services like filing taxes online and renewing licences over recreational services like finding information on government parks.

All three researchers said citizens were more likely to use ESD the more experienced they were with the Internet. Charles, however, warned that incremental shifts should not be mistaken for a complete conversion from one channel to another. “”The most sophisticated, most Internet-savvy user may for whatever reason or another prefer to request a service on the phone or in person,”” he said, pointing to licence renewals as an example.

Saravanamutto agreed, adding that while ESD is not a Tier-1 issue in the minds of citizens like health care or education, electronic options offered by the private sector — like banks — may change expectations for what channels governments provide. While the ICCS will not be releasing the rest of its research findings until later this year, Charles said there was also a strong correlation between citizens’ satisfaction with ESD and their overall confidence in their government.

Jean McNulty, manager of e-government strategy for the Management Board Secretariat, said the research studies could help the province fill in the gaps in their planning process.

“”They often have an idea about what clients want from their own department, but they don’t have an overall idea of what citizens want,”” she said.

Showcase Ontario continues through Thursday.

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