The Dutch Municipality of Utrecht now offers a digital practice environment for people who have difficulty using government websites. The virtual assistant ‘Steffie’ helps users by explaining digital and administrative procedures.
On the website www.Uabc.nl, people can find explanation of many frequently used processes on government websites, as well as allowing them to practise using the websites in a safe and secure environment. Steffie takes centre stage in this practice environment, pointing people in the right direction, giving explanation, and if desired, reading the information out loud. The site can be used as part of training courses, but can also be used by people at home in their own time. It allows people to practise using the DigiD, making appointments for a new passport, requesting unemployment benefit, monthly reporting to the Employee Insurance Agency regarding the obligation to seek work, or with common functions such as uploading documents.
Government services are increasingly moving online, yet research shows around 30% of Utrecht's adult population has difficulty using these online services. It is important to the Municipality that services are accessible to everybody at all times, including residents who are not very computer fluent. The Municipality of Utrecht developed www.Uabc.nl together with the Tax Authorities, the Employee Insurance Agency, the Social Insurance Bank, Logius and Digiwijs. The prototype was tested by user groups and enthusiastically received by both the National Ombudsman and Ieder(in), the national network for people with a disability or chronic illness. The Pharos Foundation – responsible for the initiative to translate the DigiD module for residence-permit holders – was also enthusiastic. The parties involved have helped take a major step towards a unified digital government platform that is understandable and accessible to all.