A century ago, as the first Public Service Act was drawn up with an inky quill, a government radio station began sending signals from the summit of Wellington’s Tinakori Hill. A technological and information revolution was underway, one that would accompany the birth of New Zealand’s Public Service.
The astonishing power of radio to reach and inform ordinary people saw New Zealand introduce the world’s first parliamentary broadcasts, in 1936. The popularity of the new medium exploded by 1940; with four out of five households owning what was popularly known as a ‘wireless’.
By the 1960s, as the Public Service marked its first half century and a State Services Commission came into being, there were further, even more dramatic, leaps in technology. Television began broadcasting images of the world into peoples’ living rooms. The first refrigerator-sized computers were installed in departmental offices.
In 2013, as the Public Service marks its first century, the information revolution hurtles onward. ‘Wireless’ today means something quite different. Uptake by Kiwis of smart phones, tablets and laptops, high-speed broadband and social media continue to transform our society and the way we engage in it.
In recent decades, online technologies have also revolutionized the delivery of public services, allowing New Zealanders to obtain information and conduct transactions such as paying tax and renewing car registration.
The ability of technology to reduce the distance between citizens and public services is certain to continue in the New Zealand of 2050, thanks to ultra fast broadband (UFB) delivered through fibre optic cabling.
A generation from now, New Zealand will still be technologically evolving in a more complex, less predictable world. Its population of five million, two million in Auckland, will be ageing. Many more of us will be of Māori and Pasifika origin, with Asians making up as much as a third of Auckland’s population.
In the ultra-connected world of 2050, Kiwis, like other global citizens, will expect deeper, more immediate engagement with government on a wider range of issues that concern them. Social media has already demonstrated the potential to become a rallying point for emerging issues.
In 2050, government itself is likely to look more porous, more vibrant and more accessible to the ordinary Kiwi.
Everyday transactional public services will be carried out at the tap of a screen, away from traditional delivery channels.
An individual agency like Inland Revenue Department (IRD) will, for example, still be collecting GST or its 2050 equivalent. But iwi, non-government agencies, and the private sector, are likely to be partners in delivering flexible and sophisticated services in areas like health and education.
More complex interventions, involving individuals, whānau and families, will be delivered by agencies operating in a more joined up way. The agencies of 2050 themselves will have to be light on their feet and more responsive, organising themselves in innovative ways to deliver on the obligations set by Ministers.
The government services of 2050 and the way they are delivered will look different, probably unrecognisable from today. Other things will, however, remain the same. Kiwis will continue to expect efficient and timely services from the State sector, along with profound levels of trust in the people delivering them.