The TBI Globalism Study: Tech Companies Have a Role to Play in Improving Public Services

Technology Policy

The TBI Globalism Study: Tech Companies Have a Role to Play in Improving Public Services

Report
Posted on: 24th November 2020
Andrew Bennett
Senior Policy Analyst

Evidence from new polling – produced by YouGov in collaboration with TBI, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Guardian – suggests strong public support globally for large tech companies playing a role in improving public services.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary pressure on public services. While many have stood up to unprecedented demand, industrial-era bureaucracies have also struggled to scale to meet people’s evolving needs. As we at TBI have argued previously, this structural mismatch has been long in the making and governments must shift from delivering what they always have to ensuring people’s needs are met in the best possible way – including supporting a wider range of partners to work towards addressing societal needs. This new polling indicates that the public want to see the capabilities of large tech companies put towards improving public services:

  1. There is broad support globally for tech companies playing a role in improving public services, particularly in emerging economies and developing countries.
     
  2. In Britain there is significant support for greater involvement of big tech companies in public services, particularly in health and education.
     
  3. Support in Britain is broadly consistent across political groupings, but views are more split in the US.    
     
  4. In every country surveyed, online access for renewing a passport/government-ID or applying for benefits is preferred over in-person or telephone services.

These results should also be seen within the context of previous TBI-YouGov polling, which found mixed views on public trust in big tech companies. The implication for policymakers is that a role for large tech companies in improving public services must be coupled with strong public interest guardrails to sustain public consent.

1. There is broad support globally for tech companies playing a role in improving public services, particularly in emerging economies and developing countries.

Across all countries in the G7, there were clear majorities supporting involvement in providing health care, schools and further education (FE)/higher education (HE), with majorities in Italy and Japan also supportive across pensions, welfare and the police.

Figure 1 – There is strong support among G7 countries for large tech companies to play a role in improving many public services, particularly health and education

How much of a role, if any, do you think large technology companies should play in helping to improve each of the following in [country name]? (Large/moderate role vs Small/no role)

Strikingly, emerging economies and developing countries were significantly more supportive. In most of these countries, over 75 per cent were supportive across all services. The exceptions were in pensions (Turkey, 71 per cent; Thailand, 61 per cent; Saudi Arabia, 69 per cent; and Indonesia, 57 per cent), and police (Thailand, 64 per cent; Turkey, 67 per cent).

Online surveys in countries with poorer internet access may over-represent support or affinity with tech and online preferences, however the contrast with G7 countries may also reflect a generally less positive view of large technology companies in countries such as Britain, the US and Australia – as stronger desires for regulatory intervention indicate.

Figure 2 – In many emerging and developing countries, over 80 per cent of respondents support a large or moderate role for tech companies in improving health and education

How much of a role, if any, do you think large technology companies should play in helping to improve each of the following in [country name]? (Large/moderate role vs Small/no role)

2. In Britain there is significant support for greater involvement of big tech companies in public services, particularly in health and education.

In Britain, a significant majority of people think large tech companies should have a large or moderate role to play in improving the health service (61 per cent) and education (60 per cent for FE/HE, 58 per cent for schools). This is slightly lower for the police (50 per cent), welfare (47 per cent) and pensions (41 per cent), with 37 per cent, 38 per cent and 40 per cent seeing either no role or only a small role in those public services. Although this data isn’t indicative of views on government outsourcing, or whether people expect large tech companies to act on their own, the responses are consistent with people wanting innovative companies playing a role in meeting their needs.

Figure 3 – A majority in Britain support a large or moderate role for big technology companies in improving the health service and education

How much of a role, if any, do you think large technology companies should play in helping to improve each of the following in [country name]? (Large/moderate role vs Small/no role)

3. Support in Britain is broadly consistent across political groupings, but views are more split in the US.

In Britain, sentiment towards this issue tends not to vary significantly according to past political vote, generally mirroring the national picture. Support for a large or moderate role for large tech companies helping to improve public services was highest for the health service (Conservative, 63 per cent; Labour, 61 per cent; Lib Dem, 64 per cent), with similar levels of support found for a role in improving schools and further/higher education. Notably, the Conservative voters were significantly more likely to see only a small or no role for large technology companies in improving the police service.

In the US, political views indicated much different views. At the time of fieldwork, 72 per cent of prospective 2020 Biden supporters saw a large or moderate role for tech companies in the provision of healthcare, with similar support found for a role in improving schools (72 per cent) and further/higher education (71 per cent). However, of Trump voters in 2016, only 50 per cent saw a role for large tech companies in the provision of public health, 47 per cent in schools and 49 per cent in further/higher education. Voters were most similar in views on a role in the police (49 per cent of Biden supporters endorse a large/moderate role, with 39 per cent only a small or no role, compared with 41 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively, for those intending to vote for Trump in 2020).

Figure 4 – Biden supporters were significantly more approving than Trump supporters of a moderate role for large tech companies in improving public services

How much of a role, if any, do you think large technology companies should play in helping to improve each of the following in [country name]? (Large/moderate role vs Small/no role)

4. In every country surveyed, online access for renewing a passport/government-ID or applying for benefits is preferred over in-person or telephone services.

When asked to choose between online, in-person and telephone applications for government benefits or a government issued-ID, in every country surveyed online access was the most popular response (both including and excluding those who answered ‘not applicable – I never do this/this doesn’t apply to me’). When ‘N/A’ responses are removed, online access for passport/identity applications was a majority preference in every country except for Germany (48 per cent), Sweden (49 per cent) and Thailand (49.6 per cent). These countries also reported the highest preference for in-person applications (Germany 39 per cent; Sweden 40 per cent; Thailand 37 per cent). For government benefits applications, with ‘N/A’ responses removed, online access was a majority preference in all countries. For passport and benefits applications, respectively, Greece (78 per cent, 83 per cent), Brazil (78 per cent, 82 per cent), India (78 per cent, 76 per cent), South Africa (76 per cent, 85 per cent) and Britain (82 per cent, 72 per cent), were the most consistently supportive of online access.

Figure 5 – In all countries surveyed, online access for government benefits applications was the majority preference, particularly in South Africa, Greece, Brazil, Nigeria, Japan and India

Now imagine a possible time in the future, when the Coronavirus pandemic has been tackled, and life has become more normal again.  From that point onwards…  How would you prefer to apply for government benefits (Please select one option from: in person, online, by telephone call, don’t know, or N/A – I never do this/this doesn’t apply to me) N.B. Chart rebased to exclude ‘N/A – I never do this/this doesn’t apply to me’ responses.

Editor's Note: Some data in charts and text may vary slightly due to rounding. Participants for the survey were selected from an online panel, which should be taken into account in responses to questions about online activities, particularly in countries with low levels of internet access. More information about the research and results can be found here: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/yougov-cambridge/globalism-project

Survey Data

The data for Great Britain is available here in XLSX format.

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