If you have ever had a painful experience completing a government form, waiting for hours at a DMV during a workday, or filling out online tax or student aid forms, you have experienced what some call a “time tax,” ingrained in many government services. This “time tax” represents the burden the government puts on people to navigate services, even those crucial to their livelihood. Adding to this, the pandemic has upended life for all of us, shedding renewed light on how precarious life is for many families, especially those facing systemic inequities, and how access to government services can often tip the scales for families, making the difference between stability or uncertainty. When, for example, one missed paycheck can mean eviction or hunger, and the ability to access government services quickly can keep families housed and fed.

While the urgency of the pandemic has led federal policy makers to make unprecedented investments in unemployment benefits for people who lost jobs, paycheck support to prevent layoffs and protect food security, and more, it has also made painfully clear the challenges that our government faces in its ability to deliver these services quickly to people at scale. As antiquated unemployment systems crashed under overwhelming demand, the fallout for working families waiting months to receive critical payments were compounded by delayed food benefits payments. As federal agencies and state governments struggled to quickly meet the needs of the people, we saw trust in government drop to new lows.

A better approach is possible when we improve the role technology and technologists play in how the government delivers services. Policy is only effective if its intended outcome actually reaches the people it’s meant to serve, and thus far, our ability to deliver hasn’t always met our ambition.

Read the full article about government service delivery by Jennifer Anastasoff at Stanford Social Innovation Review.