How can I help you? : The delivery of e-government services by means of a digital assistant

Abstract: This thesis focuses on the delivery of government services to citizens with a particula r emphasis on enabling those who are at risk of exclusion from the digital society to gain access to it. Following in this direction, one of the frequently addressed issues concerning the accessibility of e-services and information in government websites is found to be the users’ unawareness concerning the location of the desired information or service. Consequently, the overall objective of the thesis is to find, develop, and assess a solution to provide citizens with a simple and effective means of accessing and utilizing e-government services in government websites. The solution might be seen as a contribution to preventing digital exclusion among citizens caused by difficulties associated with navigation and way-finding, as well as the complexity of the utilization of the digitally provided services.To gain this objective, the thesis argues for the use of a digital assistant; i.e. an embodied conversational agent able to provide the user with the desired services or information by means of a dialogue. Influenced by a real life situation, the overall idea behind the use of a digital assistant is that since knowledge about the arrangement of available drugs in a pharmacy and a particular drug's whereabouts in that organization is of little concern to customers, so too should knowledge of the organization and the whereabouts of services and information in a website be of little consequence to users. Therefore, a digital assistant is expected to act in a similar manner to a human agent who possesses knowledge regarding the existing infor mation and services, their application area, and where these are stored.In order to realize the defined objective, this thesis is organized to cover all stages of the research process; i.e. the identification of the users’ difficulties in the current sit uation, the development of a prototype of a digital assistant, and the assessment and evaluation of the suggested solution in both a laboratory environment and in a real life situation. The thesis concludes by gathering and placing the results of the conducted studies in to a bigger context to find out whether or not the use of digital assistants improves the delivery of e-government services and the citizen’s utilization of them, and also to clarify and present the research project’s practical and methodological findings. With reference to the findings addressing the identified difficulties in the currents situation, the conducted studies showed that a digital assistant solution, such as the one described in this thesis, offers contributions to the accessibility of e-government services. It was also found that a digital assistant could contribute to the delivery of egovernment services by: a) reducing the technology barrier caused by the traditional input/output technologies, b) reducing the navigation barrier caused by the conventional web design, c) reducing the mental load of the user, and d) adding benefits and subjective pleasing.The other interesting finding concerns the contribution of the digital assistant’s “approach” to the development of egovernment services. In other words, going from a traditional design of web interfaces to a digital assistant approach is similar to moving from an inside out perspective to a strictly customer or citizen oriented perspective. This shift in perspective could be recognized as a small revolution and it has many consequences for the development of e-government services compared to the current traditions.Taken together, these findings have lead to an improvement in the digital assistant developed in this thesis, and suggest possibilities for future work within this area of research.