Transparency and simplicity will drive citizen trust in digital services underpinned by connectivity


Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Ben Wreschner
Ben Wreschner

Chief Economist at the Vodafone Group

We often assume that digitalisation is universally welcomed, but some people are hesitant and hold back from some of the useful applications available to them.

So, what are people worried about? We have been listening to citizens as part of the Successful Europe initiative. We conducted focus groups with hundreds of people, opening up the Debating Europe platform to contributions from a range of civil society.

In our Resilient Europe focus groups, one finding jumped out: while people like the idea of e-government in principle, they do not trust national governments to manage ambitious technical or digitally-driven projects. Some also pointed out that they sometimes felt overwhelmed by clutter and complexity when accessing government information and digital services.

There could be many reasons – justified or not – for this scepticism, but it undoubtedly exists, and it shows that governments have a way to go to convince people that they can be trusted to deliver.

Fortunately, the citizens taking part in Successful Europe also gave us some helpful guidance about how to address these concerns: transparency, simplicity and ease of use. These were cited as principles that could make people feel comfortable and confident online. And these principles need to be hardwired into member state e-government and online strategies – as well as those of corporates – to ensure that we bring people with us on our journey of digital transformation.

Digitalisation represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Being comfortable using government and other services online is not just about the usability of apps and websites. It’s also about fast and reliable connectivity. People recognise this. They look to policymakers and businesses to deliver the trusted high-speed access people want and society needs. This is, after all, the foundation of the entire Digital Compass strategy: it should reach everyone, everywhere.

We must listen and address the issues of trusted connectivity if Europe is to achieve its bold Digital Decade targets to speed up the digitalisation of public services and SMEs, increase digital skills across the population, and deliver Gigabit for everyone and 5G everywhere by 2030.

That also means rural communities must not be left behind. The EU has shown its commitment and political will to close the gap in rural connectivity with its Digital Decade targets to deliver better fixed and mobile connectivity to all citizens. We now need action to make that intent a reality.

Vodafone has recently published a report on rural connectivity that shows how digitalisation represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It can create millions of European jobs by fostering social and economic inclusion, as well as the wellbeing of those in rural communities.

A good internet connection is a must-have and by far the number one precondition for a life in the countryside

This is a chance to deliver real results for people. Connectivity in rural areas brings a wide range of benefits including improved quality of life through access to services such as e-health, digital learning and e-government services; more jobs through new products and services; lower carbon emissions thanks to improved efficiency; and more social inclusion. But to do this, we must take account of what people want. Vodafone Institute’s Digitising Europe Pulse, a citizen survey, conducted by Kantar in 15 European countries, revealed a clear desire for many to move to the country; 56% of the surveyed urbanites could imagine moving to the countryside in the next one or two years, while 16% said “definitely” and 40% said “maybe”. However, for 72% of urbanites a good internet connection is a must-have and by far the number one precondition for a life in the countryside.

This question of connectivity and ease-of-use also ties into Europe’s recovery plans and the thread of digitalisation that runs through them. They aim to build resilience into systems and ensure that communities are better able to cope, adapt and bounce back from future shocks.

In our Debating Europe groups, we found that citizens identified trust as a key element when it comes to digital resilience, citing its essential role in identifying mis- and disinformation, safeguarding against cyber threats, protecting personal data, and strengthening the relationship between governments and the people they serve. Many people in the focus groups went further, urging education and awareness campaigns to build long-term trust.

Connectivity is an amazing tool that, if done right, can address many of the issues facing Europe today. It can also help shape the new normal of tomorrow, as it underpins the digital services that have been a lifeline for so many of us. The citizen concerns, expressed in the Successful Europe initiative, tell us that we should make things simpler and clearer. If we are to make the most of the digital tools available, we must listen to what people are saying and build their trust in the new digital systems.

This article is part of the Connected Europe initiative, launched by a partnership between Friends of Europe and Vodafone, to foster a successful, green and resilient digital transformation in Europe. If developed properly and fairly, connectivity can boost and transform lives, create a sense of community and enable Europe to live up to its values.

There are three clusters of activity within the Connected Europe initiative:

  • Successful Europe
  • Green Europe
  • Resilient Europe

Presenting the results of the year-long pan-European study, the “Connected Europe: A digital brand for a just transition” report shows how Europe can achieve a successful, green and resilient digital transformation through collaboration and with citizens at the heart of the debate.

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