Perceptions, Drivers, Government: the Social Impact of Technology

"It’s easy for public service advancements to go unnoticed, due to decades of incremental change."

Technology: social inhibitor or social enabler?

At what rate has public service changed since 1925, and are we on the same trajectory? I had an interesting conversation with my 91-year-old father recently about this topic during a family lunch. You may question whether he is sufficiently qualified to express a view and, in most ways, I would agree he is not.

However, his challenge on ‘the value of these computers” and how they “stifle normal social development in our offspring” got me thinking about how things have changed just in my lifetime and how technology has become the bedrock of support to society’s needs.

In particular, my father and I discussed the more human aspects of care in society such as health, justice, welfare, transportation, and providing basics like electricity and water. We both concluded that we have a lot to be thankful for, and he was surprised by the role technology (“computers”) have played. Thankfully, IT-enabled improvements in these areas are accelerating so we can expect to continue seeing enhanced levels and quality of service.

Incremental changes

It’s easy for public service advancements to go unnoticed, due to decades of incremental change. My father’s personal experiences since 1925 give context to this fact:

  • One of five male siblings, he was born when there was no public health service, and wider social care was still in its infancy
  • Unemployment benefits, in very basic form, first appeared during the global Great Depression in the early 1930s
  • He fought in the Second World War in pursuit of freedom from persecution and social justice in another European country
  • He never took a driving test, since he “qualified” by driving armored vehicles in the war (which accounts for his robust style of driving!)
  • Utilities were basic, and gas lamps were still used when he was a child
  • Although domestic water supply existed in the 1800s, water quality fell far short of what we expect today

The changing social landscape

Social advancements will not only continue but accelerate, and here are some reasons why:

  • Migration: There is an increasingly mobile worldwide population: That alone brings pressure to provide more support and basic services to society. This is especially clear in Europe and the Middle East, where mass migration has brought considerable pressure on nations where immigrants are settling.
  • Aging populations: Somewhat ironically, today’s improvements in healthcare, partly due to technology, have greatly increased the age profile of societies requiring social services. In 1958, the global average life expectancy was 48 years: Today, it is closer to 73. Government service must address a larger population living longer, which impacts sustainability for healthcare, retirement, and more.
  • Citizen expectations: Consumer expectations have increased and changed in terms of how services are provided. My children order any hard or soft copy book they choose from Amazon, while my father uses the local library. Personally, I suggest an IT interface that becomes the norm, with physical interaction the exception.
  • More for less: Austerity will continue, and this will drive the need for automation rather than manual human intervention. Since the percentage of global gross domestic product spent on publically funded services has been reduced, there is continued pressure for government to spend less. This is happening at the same time that citizens and businesses expect more in scope and quality of service.
  • Advances in solutions: We have seen massive advances in terms of the range and types of services that are available as well as the technology that supports them. This means that opportunities for wider use are now available for parts of society that previously would have been excluded. A personal example: My father had a knee replacement earlier this year – a procedure that would not have been available to someone his age 20 years ago.

Coming soon: Part Two

Watch for the next installment in this series: governments who lead the way in social services, justice, transportation, utilities and healthcare. Direct from Pegaworld 2016, I’ll share examples of ways in which the public sector and its supply chain have created innovative responses to new demands. I’ll highlight five examples that I had the benefit of hearing firsthand. Meanwhile, I invite you to watch some of the Pegaworld sessions online and to read Governments Building for Change featuring nine government case studies.