Australian charity regulator’s digital service wins 99% takeup
An Australian digital service launched by the country’s charities regulator has won an award for its accessibility, after achieving 99% adoption rates amongst its target audience of charity board members – a group with an average age of 60.
In November 2013, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) launched the Charity Portal: a self-service digital interface permitting charities to complete their mandatory reporting and update their public information online. Awarding the project a national ‘Digital Transformation’ Public Sector Innovation Award, judges praised it for achieving for “broad-based buy-in and an innovative approach to engagement with older Australians who dominate the charitable sector.”
The ACNC’s assistant commissioner for charity services, David Locke, told Global Government Forum: “In 2015 over 90% of charities completed their reporting on time – a result far beyond what is achieved internationally by charity regulators.” Many board members had never interacted with government online before the system’s introduction, he said, and 20% of them are aged over 70 – but good service design and an education programme involving seminars and advice services had led to almost universal participation.
Locke argued that it’s important not to “make assumptions about people’s capacity to use digital.” The key to success, he argued, is building the right service: “Our message to civil servants around the world would be to make it as easy as possible for charities to interact with government so they can spend more time delivering their services to the community. If the system works and digital is the easiest route then people will use it.”
By including features such as pre-filling the form with the previous year’s answers for basic contact information as well as more complex information such as financial reporting, activities or beneficiaries, the portal saves time and effort in reporting to government, he added.
Another challenge was to provide a secure login: “Due to the structure of the data and the requirement for a single ‘address for service’ contact, we were only able to provide one user account for each charity – even though many charities have boards of between three and 12 people who need to access the portal.” Locke’s team is now “working towards developing an individual ‘sign-in’ for board members, which would link all the charities associated with the board member in one Portal entry point.”
This, he added, “will also support professional advisers to charities, such as lawyers or accountants, who complete reporting to the ACNC on behalf of a charity and allow them to hold a single user account for all the charities they represent rather than separate accounts for each charity.”
Locke moved to Australia five years ago, having led the Charity Commission for England and Wales. “I came here to help advise the government on setting up the ACNC, and have been here since then.”
One major challenge when the ACNC first started operating in 2012 was the sheer amount of information that had to be analysed: “On the day we opened our doors, the ACNC inherited 56,000 paper-based charity records dating back 20 years, which had never been verified or updated.
“Locating these organisations, establishing whether they still exist and updating this information was a big challenge.”
The Public Sector Innovation Awards are run by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) ACT division and the Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN).
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