Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience

Local Authority Perspectives: Fife Council

Lynne Harvie is Head of Customer Service Improvement at Fife Council. Fife is the third largest local authority in Scotland. The council area includes towns such as Glenrothes and Dunfermline as well as many rural communities.

In this interview, Lynne outlines the challenges being faced by local authorities in Scotland and across the UK as a result of budget cuts and changing demands on citizen services.

Lynne provides a good overview of the nature of citizen engagement as well as changing methods of delivery.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government Smart Cities

Smart Cities: From Point to Platform

In the beginning, there was the single app… single-purpose applications developed one at a time by individual city departments. They enabled citizens do things like get real-time bus arrival information, monitor air quality or stay current on news about elected officials and legislation relevant to the neighborhood where they live or work.

The problem with the single app is that, well, it is single. It typically doesn’t talk to other apps to share data and only has a single function. Increasingly, cities are coming to the conclusion that building separate tools for separate applications or investing limited funds and resources to integrate single apps is not practical or cost-effective.

The thinking now is to develop comprehensive set of capabilities that can be used to build a variety of integrated apps for a wide variety of applications that span multiple departments and functions – a platform, in other words.

AT&T, in alliance with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM, Intel and Qualcomm, has just announced one such initiative. Known as the Smart Cities Framework, this initiative combines AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities with those of its technology partners to offer a range of solutions for cities. The initial offering of the Framework consists of four categories of IoT solutions:

  • Infrastructure – Capabilities that will enable cities to remotely monitor the conditions of roads, bridges, buildings, parks and other sites
  • Transportation – Electric bike rental stations to reduce traffic congestion; digital signage that indicates near real-time the arrival of buses and trains
  • Public safety – Management of pedestrian traffic patterns at busy intersections, stadiums, parks and other venues; gunfire detection technology that pinpoints the location of shootings and the number of people involved
  • Citizen engagement – Remote viewing of parking meters and ability to reserve parking spaces ahead of time; mobile apps that provide helpful information real-time, e.g., malfunctioning traffic light on commuter’s route

AT&T is also developing a Smart City Network Operation Center (SC-NOC) that provides a dashboard view of how well a city’s infrastructure is performing in near-real time. The SNOC enables city officials to monitor things such as power outages, water leaks and traffic congestion from a single location.

The first cities to get connected will be Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. Each will implement capabilities tailored to their needs.

The success of this initiative will largely depend on whether cities see an attractive payback for this type of investment. If the ROI is not there, it is unlikely cash-strapped cities will invest in this technology. However, if IoT technology can save cities money while helping them provide better service, this ambitious initiative has a bright future.

Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience

The Missing Link in Optimizing Citizen Experience

The video, below, is from the 2015 Government Transformation Forum. It’s a panel discussion about the issues and challenges of moving government services from labor-intensive, manual paper-processing operations to a “more customer-centric end-to-end self-service experience…that dramatically transform[s] the user experience and improve[s] customer satisfaction.”

The panelists do a good job describing the organizational and technological challenges associated with such a sea-change transformation. They briefly touch on the issue of change management: How do you transform the role of the employees from moving paper to knowledge workers?

Change management is raised in just about every discussion on optimizing citizen experience that I’ve read. Having employees understand how their jobs have changed is critical to the success of the transformation – but that’s just the half of it. What I’ve yet to see are discussions of how employees need to change how they think about their customer: the citizen.  That’s something that seems to be taken for granted; which will magically happen once the processes and technology have been transformed.

Let me give you an example of what I mean from personal experience: My phone company has invested probably hundreds of millions of dollars integrating and upgrading their customer service systems and processes. As part of that, customer-facing employees were provided training and scripts to follow when customers called in for service.

I had just moved to a new home and needed a second phone line. I also needed to transfer the phone number of my second line in my old home to that of my new home. When I called, I was greeted with an outpouring of charm: “How are you today, Mr. Larkin? Thank you for calling XYZ. How may I be of service today? Once we got over the pleasantries and into the purpose of my call, I was informed the phone number could not be transferred (two customer service representatives had told me earlier this was possible). Furthermore, I could choose a new number from a selection of numbers. However, they could not guarantee the number would work and, hence, I would need to call in to get a new number (which, of course, was not guaranteed to work either – I’m not making this up). By the time we got to that part of the conversation, steam was coming out of my ears. The representative clearly could tell I was frustrated as she told me: “I understand Mr. Larkin why you would be feeling frustrated.” Since none of this made sense, I asked to speak to a supervisor and was informed none were available. At that point, I decided to end the call. The representative thanked me for calling and then asked: “Have I provided you with excellent service today?” My point here is that this employee was providing exactly the same type of (poor) service she was providing before the “transformation.” The only thing that was different were the responses she was giving.

So the moral of the story is: transforming employees’ behavior and attitude towards the citizen are critical and must be an integral part of optimizing citizen experience.

Citizen Experience

Case Study: Getting Citizen Experience Right

Launched in 2012, BusinessUSA ( is a US Government website designed to help US businesses and exporters of all sizes get information about available Federal business programs without having to waste time and resources navigating the Federal bureaucracy to find what they need.

What is unique about it is that it is a “one-stop shop” site that provides access, through a common platform, to nearly 5,700 Federal, state and local resources scattered across 11,000 websites at 56 Federal agencies. What is also unique is that, from the outset, its design was centered on user experience rather than offerings.

Post 23 - Fig 1-Original Home Page
Figure 1. Initial homepage. Source: BusinessUSA

Historically, government websites have been structured around programs and services. BusinessUSA took a different design approach: it focused on user needs. So its homepage, rather than consist of a listing of programs and services, instead listed topics most likely to be of interest to the user. For example: starting a business, financing a business, exporting, etc.

After launch of the initial website, the team spent the next year conducting usability testing, focus groups and surveys to better understand what citizens needed and the services they were looking for. Based on the analysis of the data, the team released 41 new or enhanced capabilities that included:

  • a redesigned home page that is easier to use (See Figure 2)
  • new tools, wizards and interchangeable tiles to facilitate easier navigation
  • implementation of a responsive web design that automatically adapts website views to the user’s device (They found that 10% of users accessed the site from their mobile phones – which has now grown to over 30%)
  • stronger search engine capabilities, and
  • Google translation capability for foreign users.
Figure 2. Comparison of new and redesigned homepages. Source: BusinessUSA
Figure 2. Comparison of new and redesigned homepages. Source: BusinessUSA

In keeping with their mantra of meeting citizens where they are, BusinessUSA added a call center where users can contact support representatives via phone, email or submission of an on-line ticket. Recently, an on-line chat capability was added (BusinessUSA was one of the first Federal government websites to pilot the use of on-line chat to communicate with users in real time). BusinessUSA also has a presence in social media. It has also developed apps for IOS and Android devices.

To ensure consistency and seamless integration of its interactive communications channels, BusinessUSA implemented a shared knowledge base. As a result of having a common knowledgebase, citizens receive consistent information regardless of the channel they use.

BusinessUSA makes extensive use of analytics to determine where its users are coming from, what platforms they are using and how their usage patterns evolve over time. They also use analytics to track how well their products and initiatives are received through mechanisms like surveys, the customer contact center, emails and chats. BusinessUSA is constantly soliciting and analyzing feedback from its users (See Figure 3).

Figure 3. Real-time feedback solicitation. Source: BusinessUSA
Figure 3. Real-time feedback solicitation. Source: BusinessUSA

Since its launch in February 2012, BusinessUSA has experienced consistent growth of users and demand for its services. As of June of 2014, there have been in the order of two million visits. The number of content subscribers in 2012 was 35,000; by 2014 it had grown to 90,000. It has also won several awards. BusinessUSA is held as an example of getting customer satisfaction right. It’s worth a visit.

Digital Policy

Join Nearly 400 Other ‘Govvies’

The Citizen 2016 Linkedin Group is a great way to connect with others interested in Digital Government and Citizen to Government Engagement.

The group has nearly 400 members and we update it every time we update – so it’s a great way to ensure you’re on top of the latest Citizen 2016 news, events and discussions.

If you’re not already a member please take just a few seconds to join the Citizen 2016 Linkedin Group now.

Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience Digital Government

Gov Apps? Where are they?

In previous posts, I have talked about what Government as a Platform (GaaP) is all about: government agencies not only providing web applications specific to their mission but also services on which citizens and organizations can build applications of their own for the benefit of other citizens and the community. It’s the apps that provide the value; GaaP is just an enabler.

So who’s developing such apps and for what purposes? Herein is a sampling of government-open-data apps that have been developed and, in many cases, available for your use. – The US Federal Government publishes a list of mobile open-data apps it has developed. The list, which is available through its official web portal, [ ], comprises of nearly 300 apps. These apps, by and large, are specific to the Agency’s mission.

Apps range from the practical (waiting times at US border crossings) to fun (North American Aerospace Defense Command’s tracking of Santa Claus’ journey on December 24th) – not many of those – to the arcane (railroad crossing locator).

These apps essentially consist of user-friendly interfaces to specialized open-data sets. In many regards, these are the first-generation eGoverment apps – based on the concept of “let’s make all this data available and see what people do with it.” – This companion website lists 81 government-data-based apps developed by third parties. Like, the apps cover a very wide range of applications.

An interesting app, which is still under development, is iCitizen. According to its creators, iCitizen “tracks elected officials and the issues you choose to care about in real time. Take part in polls to let your representative know where you stand on hot-button topics. Real-time monitoring and voting. Rate your federal and state elected officials. View their voting records and campaign contributors. Track the current issues most important to you, and keep up with related news. Cast your vote in polls related to today’s issues. Show your support for or opposition to pending legislation.” If iCitizen can do all of this, it certainly would raise citizen engagement to a new level.

Code for America  – This site lists Code for America’s products: 40+ apps focused municipal services. These “tactical” apps are designed to solve specific problems or provide a particular capability. Some examples:

AddressIQ – Jointly developed with the City of Long Beach, CA, this web application was developed to reduce the demand on emergency services by analyzing city data to help identify addresses with a high number of 911 calls (In 2013, 10% of the city’s addresses generated 52% of 911 calls). AddressIQ displays this information to city staff and supports the coordination of cost-effective ways to provide those addresses with better care and resources.

TextMyBus – Provides a simple text messaging service to relay real time bus arrival information to Detroit riders and an API for developers to build 3rd party transit apps.

Jail Population Management Dashboard – Gives Louisville, KY, judges, corrections staff, and police a real-time, in-depth view of the local metro jail system, which helps them understand the conditions in the metro jail and use this data to assess how their decisions will affect program, facility and inmate outcomes.

The above three sites provide a good cross-section of the types of government-open-data apps that are being implemented today. As I indicated in a previous post, these examples represent the first-generation of GaaP applications – akin to the Pong video game of the early eighties.