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The Service Innovation Lab (the Lab) worked with the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) and Stats NZ to identify legislative barriers to delivering digitally enabled government services. We ran two workshops with people from a range of public sector agencies, and asked them about legislative barriers they have experienced, and their ideas to reduce or eliminate them. Many barriers prevent improvements to service delivery at scale and the ability for service providers to respond to change. However, there are opportunities to address some of these barriers and ensure they are not repeated in future legislation.

Encountering legislative barriers to service innovation

The Lab team has encountered a number of legislative requirements hampering our ability to innovate when designing and delivering integrated and proactive digital services that truly meet people’s needs. For example, while we are proud of the Rates Rebate Alpha we have delivered, the prescriptive Rates Rebate Act 1973 meant we weren’t able to completely flip the process on its head. The legislation requires an applicant to submit a form, which is then signed and witnessed by an authorised person, usually a service centre staff member at the council when an application is submitted, similar to a statutory declaration.

Most of New Zealand’s legislation has been produced for a paper-based world, often without anticipating the needs and opportunities of digital service delivery systems, or the impact of digital transformation (for more about this, see the Better Rules Discovery report). Consequently, unless this is addressed in a collective, system-wide manner, people will continue to encounter barriers to digital transformation in legislation on an individual project, policy, and departmental basis.

Opportunities for improvement

PCO drafts most of New Zealand’s primary legislation. It has been identifying common legislative barriers to digital transformation so options for changes can be considered. Similarly, Stats NZ has been looking at how it could improve some legislation to better enable the use of data across government.

The Lab team, PCO and Stats NZ held two workshops to identify legislative barriers to digital service delivery, attended by 40 people who work in policy or legislative development, or service design/delivery for government agencies.

Barriers identified

Many barriers were identified - not all  legislative. Those that are fell under the following broad categories:

  • requirements that things be done “in-writing”
  • requirements that things be done on paper
  • specified forms of communication that don’t include digital options (the method of communication often dictates the format, e.g. “by fax” means it will be on paper)
  • specified methods of payment that don’t include digital options
  • provisions that require a physical presence for requirements to be met
  • requirements concerning a person’s identity and how they prove it
  • privacy considerations
  • inability to share information across services or agencies even with an individual’s consent
  • requiring the same information to be provided repeatedly (rather than “ask only once”)
  • differing requirements for registers of information without considering how it is managed or shared across agencies
  • failure to take a digital first approach
  • not accounting for automated decision-making
  • difficulty navigating and interpreting multiple pieces of related legislation and policies and multiple definitions of the same terms
  • time and cost of access to standards referred to in legislation
  • over-prescription, and a lack of future-proofing
  • unintended consequences of policy design
  • policy choices that create barriers to digital approaches.

As we identified in the Better Rules Discovery, some barriers result from a disconnection between policy development and operational delivery. Policy is not always implemented as intended when teams aim to reduce complexity and optimise service delivery to meet people’s needs.

Some barriers raised were non-legislative, for example:

  • where rule sets (legislation + operational policy) can’t be clearly tracked, leading to a lack of transparency in decision-making
  • legacy systems dictating processes.

Some barriers raise fascinating issues, and opportunities for greatly improved operational and policy outcomes, while some of the matters identified as barriers are policy choices made for sound reasons. There will always be some things that cannot be done digitally. However, there are simple and effective digital alternatives that could be provided to resolve many of the barriers.

Possible solutions

A number of existing solutions to some of the barriers were identified. For example, Part 4 of the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 provides (among many other things):

  • a legal requirement for something to be in-writing is met by information in electronic form (provided certain conditions are met); and
  • a legal requirement for a signature, or a signature or a seal to be witnessed, can be met with an electronic signature.

However, it is apparent from the workshops many people do not know about these solutions,, which have general application. This lack of knowledge is itself a barrier to digital transformation of government service delivery.

For the Rates Rebate Alpha we applied the provision for electronic signatures under the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 so we could deliver an end to end digital service which we are testing with users.

PCO and Stats NZ are working through the barriers identified at the workshops to inform future policy and drafting choices. The principles and approaches creating the legislative barriers to digital service delivery and transformation can inform the guidance materials for future legislation. In this way, these barriers are not repeated in future legislation, and (over time) the existing barriers can be removed.

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