Local govts must digitize procedures with residents’ viewpoints in mind

Local governments are residents’ closest point of contact with public administration. To maintain quality services for residents even while population decline reduces the number of staff, local governments are urged to devise new approaches, including digitization.

“No-writing resident service counters” enabling residents to receive residence certificates and other documents without having to fill out paper application forms at the municipal office are attracting attention as one such approach. About 70 municipalities are introducing this program, which residents can use in situations such as when they move to a new address.

An application form is automatically generated by a staff member who asks the applicant resident for their name, address and other necessary items, and enters the information into a computer system linked to the Basic Resident Registration and other systems.

Residents check the printed documents, sign them, and the application is complete. This saves time that would otherwise be spent filling out multiple forms by hand and prevents necessary parts of the forms from accidentally being left blank.

Staffers at such counters can also focus on their primary duties, since applications related to such matters as health insurance and child-rearing support allowances are automatically sent to the computers systems of the relevant sections, eliminating the need to check the forms at the resident service counters.

At the municipal government of Kitami, Hokkaido, the time required to process each application has been reduced by two to three minutes, leading to a reduction in overall hours of work. The city spent about ¥70 million to establish the new resident service system, but the benefits seem to have been even greater than the investment.

Some municipalities, such as Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, offer a service that further reduces the time needed to register moves into or out of the city by having residents answer simple questions online before visiting the counter.

However, the extent to which digitization is pursued depends on the size of the municipality.

The city of Kitami has a population of about 110,000, while Yokosuka has about 380,000. They have the budgetary strength to introduce their own systems and can expect to improve convenience for many users and increase work efficiency.

Smaller municipalities, however, have smaller budgets and fewer users, so it is difficult to see the benefits of introducing a new system. Joint implementation by multiple municipalities in a region would be an option to consider.

As the environment surrounding local governments becomes increasingly severe, it is necessary to constantly review work procedures in addition to promoting digitization in order to maintain the standard of resident service.

In doing so, local governments must listen most of all to the opinions of residents, rather than giving priority to their own in-house concerns, such as improving operational efficiency and reducing costs. Local governments must remember anew that the basis of public administration is providing detailed responses to local residents.

In order to realize high-quality administrative services, in addition to the leadership of the mayor, it is important to incorporate the opinions of the staffers who are in daily contact with residents and share their awareness of issues.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 20, 2022)