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Je t'aime moi non plus : Les Français et leurs services publics à l'heure de la numérisation (The French and their public services at the time of digitisation)

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The relationship between the French and their public services has always had an air of "je t'aime, moi non plus". There are too many, not enough... A troubled relationship with peaks of discontent that can now be heard at every street corner, village square or departmental roundabout. Is the arrival of digital technology and its promise of digitizing public services a solution? What do the French think about it and, above all, how do they practice the new uses that are more or less imposed on them? It is in an attempt to shed light on these questions that a number of studies have recently been carried out. Diagnosis and perspectives for major issues in the daily life of everyone.

 
It is 3pm and it is sunny in the small village of Requeil in the Sarthe. 1200 souls take advantage of the surrounding forest which they cross almost every day of the week to go to work in the town. In front of the church, a "gathering" of five, six people. They grumble and are even very unhappy: the small municipal post office which was supposed to open at 1.30 pm remains ostensibly closed, exceptionally as advertised on the glass door, it will not open today. Usually it is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. A privilege and a blessing for this rural village! One could even say an exception. The villagers are afraid that this "exceptional closure" will become permanent...
Because La Poste is discreetly closing offices all over France: 404 offices closed between early 2016 and early 2017, according to an census of 60 million consumers.
"When you close a post office, you jeopardize the entire territorial network of public services and you reinforce the isolation of a given geographical area and, consequently, of its inhabitants. When we close a post office, we accept that users become customers in supermarkets that have taken over the services formerly provided by the Post Office. And what does it matter how confidential the procedures are, and what does it matter how good the service is? » explains Valentin Brouillard in the Common Cause magazine.
 
The administrative procedures are also totally disrupted: Hélène, 70 years old, is moving. She can't manage to contact her Primary Health Insurance Fund by phone to carry out her administrative operations. Nor can she pay for her change of address and all the paperwork that goes with it because all the public services tell her to go to the relevant websites to fill in the forms, which are now online and digitalized.
Moreover, some of CPAM's reception areas are closing, such as recently at Epinay-sur-Seine (95). Not forgetting the closures of maternity wards, schools, small SNCF lines, ...
 

So, which utility are we headed for? 

The Mazars study "The French and the transformation of the public service", carried out by Opinion Way on 5 and 6 February this year, looked at the digitalisation of the public service and the relationship and uses of the French with e-government.
 
While the vast majority of French people appreciate the efficiency of public services for more than 70%, almost one in two, or 47%, consider that the procedures are still complicated. The generalised dematerialisation of public services to link users to public services is under way, but the French have not fully appropriated the digital tools in place. Among the results of the study, we note that the vast majority of French people appreciate the efficiency of public services, with rates above 70%; 67% consider themselves well informed about online administrative procedures; that digital tools are now often the first means of communication with administrations and services and that 38% of these digital tools make public services more accessible, but 80% consider that digitisation has led to a dehumanisation of public services.
Nearly 47% consider that the procedures are still complicated and, in fact, 71 % of the French expect the procedures to be simplified. Nevertheless, optimistic for the future, 68% believe that digitalisation will eventually simplify procedures and 57% believe that it will compensate for the withdrawal of public services in the least populated areas.
As for the confidence in the confidentiality and security of personal data for nearly 65% of the French people, this is an asset to continue the dematerialization on the way.
 
"In this context of increasing digitalization, the study shows a strong adhesion of French people to public services, they raise their efficiency, with rates well beyond 70%. The dematerialized services of the social security and tax authorities, launched with a head start and offering more personalization, are the most satisfied. », analysis Cécile-Marie Touscoz, Public Sector Partner at Mazars.
 

Digital tools, a priority gateway for certain services

The French feel rather well informed about online administrative procedures (67%), with a difference between those living in the Ile-de-France (73%) and those living in the provinces (66%).
 
However, the use of digital tools to communicate with public services varies greatly depending on the public sector. They are the primary means of communication with the health insurance (34% of the French contacted via the website) and with the tax authorities (33%), pension insurance (20%) and family allowance funds (21%). Conversely, some public services are characterised by communication via more traditional means and visit the local authorities: this is notably the case for the town hall of residence (55%) or the civil registry office (54%).
 
The service-public.fr website is the French administration's online one-stop shop. It is known by a large number of French people (71%) and 44% use it at least once a year. The site seems to satisfy its users, with 86% of those who have used it stating that it has been able to meet their expectations.
 
The applications offered by the public service to carry out certain procedures are used by a significant number of French people (41%), even if this use is still a minority.
 

The French triple expectation

The French express a triple expectation for:
- More simplicity: simplifying procedures is by far the first expectation of the French people with regard to the transformation of the public sector (71%). Nearly one in two French people (47%) consider that they are still as complicated as ever, and 19% feel that they are even more complicated, compared with nearly a third of French people who feel that administrative procedures are simpler than before (32%).
- More proximity. While 38% believe that digital tools make public services more accessible, 80% believe that digitalisation has led to a dehumanisation of public services. This feeling particularly affects people living in rural communes (85% compared with 78% for people living in towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants or in the Paris conurbation).
- More personalized service. In particular, they would like alerts to warn them of the steps to be taken (56%) but also the generalisation of digital appointment scheduling (38%). French people are also interested in forms that are pre-filled out according to their situation (44%). Other digital tools also point out, but more slightly: achat allowing the administration to be contacted 24 hours a day (25% on average, favoured by 37% among young people under 35 years of age) or a teleconsultation service (23%). In addition, faster response times appear to be one of the three main expectations for 61% of the French.
 
Finally, in the future, the French are rather optimistic about the development of IT for the public services of tomorrow: 70% of them believe that IT will free up paperwork for public services, 68% that it will eventually simplify procedures and 57% that it will compensate for the withdrawal of public services in less populated areas.
 
"All the proposals to digitise public services are welcomed by the French, with an increasingly widespread use, even if there are still efforts to simplify them. In this context, the issue of personal data is a real asset to pursue this dematerialization on the road: 64% of the French have confidence in the confidentiality of their personal data and 63% in the security of this data. » concludes Jean-François Treille, Public Sector Partner at Mazars.
 

Complete digitisation of public services by 2022

Since 2017, the State has been engaged in a reform project called "The State of the Nation". Public action 2022 "In 2018, the executive questioned staff and users on the "public service of tomorrow". Result: a majority desire to "keep the current scope of public service missions unchanged". Most respondents do not want "missions to be created, abandoned or entrusted to other actors". The digitisation of procedures is seen as a powerful lever for savings.
In the " 2018 Utility Barometer "published in December 2018 by the Paul Delouvrier Institute. (2), 57 % of the respondents were thus in favour of "lowering the level of taxes", even if it meant "reducing the services provided by public services". The Barometer notes a stable level of user satisfaction with public services, with the notable exception of services in charge of the environment.
"Between the preservation of public services and the expectation of a reduction in the tax burden, we are thus faced with a double expectation that is difficult to satisfy, says the institute. (Source : Liberation, January 2019).
 
The fourth edition of the Digital Gov' barometer carried out by Ipsos for Sopra Steria (3) gives the keys to what citizens expect from the administration 3.0 and the evolution of trends between countries. While the government's investment in the digital transformation of public services is recognized by 86% of citizens who note a significant increase in the number of services that are now digitalized, only 66% consider these new services to be easy to use. 52% consider in particular that the contents should be simplified and 44% wish to carry out their interactions with the administration via a one-stop shop.
 
Data security remains an important concern, with 71% of respondents fearing fraudulent use of their personal data. The implementation of the DPMR nevertheless seems to reassure citizens since 53% of respondents express their confidence in the administration for the protection of their information.
Finally, while citizens understand the interest of this digital transformation in order to rationalise public spending (42%), they believe above all that it should allow them to save time (49% of them).
 
The digitization of public services is clearly seen as positive by citizens, who see three concrete effects: facilitating the analysis and systematic cross-checking of personal information in order to increase fraud control (86%), better preparing France for the challenges of the future (79%) and simplifying citizens' lives (74%).
 

What about the human in all this?

The human factor is a key element in the transformation of public services. In the same Ipsos study, 86% of French people believe that some civil servants will have difficulty adapting to these changes (up 5 points compared to 2017), while 83% believe that this will reduce the number of civil servants (up 9 points compared to 2017). Finally, 82% of respondents believe that digital public services will be more difficult to access for some French people who are not comfortable with technology.
 
"The enthusiasm and support for the digitisation of public services is very consensual and very strong in France and in Europe, to the point that a very large majority of public opinion considers that the digitisation of public services will make it possible to improve the country's situation in the future. However, there are still obstacles, particularly in terms of data protection and support for citizens and public officials in using these services. There are high expectations among citizens that the public authorities will have to take into account", said Brice Teinturier, Ipsos' Deputy Chief Executive Officer for France.
 
 
(1) Methodology: The "Les Français et les services publics" study was carried out on a sample of 1,016 people, representative of the French population aged 18 and over, constituted according to the quota method, with regard to the criteria of gender, age, socio-professional category, category of urban area and region of residence. The interviews were conducted on 6 and 7 February 2019.
(2) Study based on a sample of more than 2,500 people.
(3) 4th edition of the Digital Gouv' barometer carried out by Ipsos for Sopra Steria in September 2018 on a sample of 5,000 people in France, Germany, Spain, Norway and the United Kingdom.
 
Header photo:  First post office, opened in 1840, at Najac in the Aveyron.
 

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