Six Ways Digital Citizenship Benefits Both Governments and Communities

Kuruvilla ‘Mat’ Mathew

The 21st century will feature a push and pull between convenience and privacy issues as activities move online and are trackable in real-time.

Kuruvilla ‘Mat’ Mathew

Mathew is Chief Innovation Architect at UST

People are rightfully concerned with how their data will be used, with whom it will be shared, and what benefit they will derive from sharing their data. That worry stems from the many security breaches, misuse of data in the past, and the increasing scamming and phishing attacks that result in personal losses - money, increased stress, and no recourse to getting time and money back. Studies have shown where you shared the data last is often the cause of the compromise.

And consumers rarely see real benefits to sharing their data, just increasingly targeted advertisements that follow them across the internet.

But one way data can be powerful is to better connect citizens and the governments that serve them. This can be accomplished through establishing a digital identity for citizens, a movement that is gaining traction in Europe, especially.

The reality is that citizens share an abundance of data with several public and private organizations with little privacy, security, or coordination. Nowhere is this more apparent than having to enter the same basic healthcare information every time you see a new doctor (and often with the same doctor when they change or upgrade their operating system).

Creating a more secure and streamlined mechanism for sharing that data can provide significant benefits. Also, creating a trust data service model that produces secure answers can reduce the number of exposures.

When you contemplate the number of services even the smallest town provides and understand the hurdles their citizens face to manage the various interaction points with government officials; it feels astronomical.


It’s been done already. As Deloitte stated in its Government 2020 Trends Report, Estonia created a digital infrastructure where basic citizen information is shared across agencies. The benefits are numerous. When an Estonian starts their taxes, their information is already prepopulated. They can access health records, get married and divorced, and vote, all online.

The EU has set forth the Once-Only Principle, enabling citizens and businesses to share their data once for public services throughout Europe to “reuse or share data and documents… transparently and securely.”

As more individuals are exposed to unique digital identifiers and shared data, the more their peers will accept it.

Here are six benefits to introducing digital citizenship to your municipality, city, town, or country:

Renewed trust: At first, this may seem paradoxical. But trust is often low in the government. Creating a digital identity program will require significant investment in user experience, quality assurance, and safety. Those who roll out polished digital citizenship initiatives will instill a sense of trust in their citizens judged by how smooth and clean it looks.

To promote trust, governments need to ensure that they provide meaningful transparency and answers to questions that residents have on the use of data.

To be certain, governments that wish to implement unique digital identifiers have their communications work cut out for them, but we have established above that it is a worthwhile endeavor for the efficiency and security of both the government and its citizens.

Streamlined administration: Inasmuch as the user experience for citizens is often suboptimal, it is dramatically worse for the government, which often has to navigate multiple systems, many of which are either woefully outdated or redundant. A real opportunity exists to build empathetic interfaces that address the diverse needs of citizens across omnichannel while complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508, WAI, and more.

Reduced bureaucratic costs: There are significant costs in maintaining disparate systems, including, but not limited to, wasted time. By establishing a canonical model that defines a common mechanism to access information across systems, governments set up a federated structure that brings all systems together and not losing command and control.

Increased revenues: Under the current disparate system, it’s easy for citizens to forget to pay parking tickets, property taxes, fines, and other requirements because they misplace their log-ins, can’t remember the website they must log into, or just forget they owe anything. And for those who refuse to pay or are purposefully delinquent, a centralized system can restrict them from accessing perks or benefits until they settle up.

Citizen empowerment and education: Providing a simple destination for citizens to understand their standing in the community and learn about opportunities to contribute to future prosperity encourages them to increase their participation.

Inspiration for innovation: What could a community achieve if all of its citizens could solve problems that improved their quality of life and were engaged in programs where ownership and personal equity in communities could be built? Citizens could suggest ways to maximize public spaces, vote on the naming of parks and streets, and provide valuable feedback on how the government could better serve the people. True democracy at work.


Implementing digital citizenship is a multi-step, multi-year process, but there has never been a better time to start. To be certain, governments must invest in technology, initiate several legal and security frameworks, and unite many disparate organizations and agencies used to do things their way.

But it is worth doing as the benefits of an informed and empowered citizenry outweigh any costs by a significant degree.