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Society, and government’s role in supporting society, is complex and ever-changing. Vast shifts in demographics, coupled with increasing privacy concerns and greater awareness for at-risk communities, mean governments need to continually adapt their services and aspire to support a complex variety of individuals and life situations. Governments need to move beyond traditional a one-size-fits-all approach to serving citizens, but they struggle to overcome traditional cultural and institutional barriers to change and innovation. Efforts to increase personalization through empathetic, citizen-centered approaches run up against obstacles such as a lack of tools, trained personnel and investment capital. The question is: how can a government meet the demands of its challenging mission given its limited resources and capacity to serve?

A good starting point is to focus on each citizen’s life experience, or what is known as her “walk of life.” While everyone’s life is different, there are common stages, such as pre-infancy (pregnancy), infancy, early childhood, youth, working years, and old age. Supporting citizens in their walk of life means looking at those touchpoints that nearly everyone has in common and developing a supporting welfare continuum of private, nonprofit, and public-sector organizations that ensure that no citizen is underserved. For example, Karolinska Institutet, a Swedish research center, teamed up with local government to test its early dyslexia detection tool in local schools, helping at-risk students get treatment sooner.

By taking a holistic view of the citizen, government services, data, and resources can be properly connected and allocated to help mitigate risks and improve overall welfare. Technology can play a key role in improving lives by sifting through large amounts of data to cost-effectively surface latent trends and patterns that might escape immediate observation. For example, child abuse has been shown to have long-term economic impacts of $124 billion in the U.S.; early detection and prevention can have major implications in terms of increased educational achievement and worker productivity. In another example, students from economically disadvantaged families are more at risk of becoming educational drop-outs and continue a cycle of low economic success. Machine learning can help compliment government services by quickly and cost-effectively drawing out subtle correlations and insights that enable data-driven decision making. As a result, agencies can strengthen their citizen-centered approaches and help serve at-risk populations faster—thereby mitigating the need for more costly support services later.

Public agencies can also improve citizen experience by personalizing their services and proactively extending them to meet citizens when and where they want them, instead of demanding that the citizens come to their local government office. New tools and methods, such as AI, IoT, big data, advanced analytics and modern communications, can support this evolution toward more personalized, citizen-centric, and continuous service delivery.

Empathy is a key ingredient in this transition that unlocks the capacity and creativity to solve today’s challenges. Technology can support government employees to be more available, empathetic, and empowered to help, by increasing their ability to listen and understand citizens in meaningful ways daily.

Not every citizen needs government support all the time; invariably, however, as each citizen passes through life, he or she will look to the government for assistance. By creating a well-connected, personalized, and robust infrastructure to support citizens’ welfare continuum, government can ensure that it is ready to serve when called upon.

Read more about how governments can support the citizen’s journey through life.