Citizen Engagement Digital Government Uncategorized

Engaging Millennials

I have lost track of the number of times articles on customer and citizen engagement talk about millennials and their unique characteristics – it seems to have reached mythical dimensions. So what is this “millennial phenomenon?”

What sets millennials apart from other generations, namely Baby Boomers and Gen-Xrs, is that this is the first generation to grow up in an interactive digital world – the so-called “digital natives.” To millennials, mobile and social technologies are what the telephone and the radio were for Baby-Boomers in their youth. Immediately accessing information and instantly communicating and sharing is second nature for this generation.

As a result, they expect not only immediacy of information but also brevity and conciseness of communication. It’s not that they have the attention span of a child but, rather, they have been conditioned to quickly process high volumes of information. They are also very visual; not surprising considering that the average young adult watches over 500 videos on line a month – from a collection of 75+ billion videos available on line (Comscore Video Metrix survey 2014). Given the gargantuan volume of information available digitally, millennials tend to be very selective about the information (or services) they want. And, in the process of getting them, they seek to have a personalized experience.

Given all that has been written about millennials, one would think the differences run far deeper. But the evidence seems to indicate that is not the case. IBM conducted a study about the preferences and behavioral patterns of millennials in the workplace. Their findings: Other than for their technology savvy, millennials are a lot like their older colleagues. They have similar career aspirations, desire for recognition and level of comfort making decisions on their own. A Fizziology report on social media communications found that, by and large, all three generations converse on-line about popular social topics a comparable amount.

So how to best engage millennials? Here are some tips from the experts:

– With smartphones and tablets as their standard equipment, mobile presence is a must. The key here is that the on-line experience across platforms has to be seamless, regardless of the device being used.

– Keep in mind that millennials span three decades and, as a result, there is a lot of variation in their interests and preferences. The youngest millennials are still teenagers while the oldest ones are marrying and having children. When developing an engagement strategy, you need to ensure you utilize the channels and platforms that your target millennial segment utilizes. Just as important, the content you create needs to be relevant to the channel where it is published. Otherwise, it will not resonate with your target audience.

– Appeal to their visual sense and desire for a personalized experience by using interactive applications. Applications that allow the user to zoom, spin, rotate and interact with an object virtually the same way one would with a real product will provide for a more engaging and personalized experience.

– Keep the communications brief and concise. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your audience’s attention.

You might note that there is little mention about social media here. While social media is a great tool for marketing products and services to millennials, it has limited utility in eGovernment applications. Why? Because of privacy concerns. Millennials are keenly aware of data mining practices of social media providers and they want to keep aspects of their life such as their dealings with the government private. To wit, a recent Accenture #AFSFedPulse survey found that only 20% of millennials living in the Washington DC metro-area would use Facebook or Twitter to receive information from the government.

So, yes, millennials are different – but not so different.

Citizen Engagement Digital Policy

New How-to Guide for Assessing Digital Citizen Engagement

The World Bank has just released a wonderful publication titled: Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement – A Practical Guide.

This publication – manual, I should call it – is a 172-page comprehensive “how-to” guide for assessing as well as developing digital citizen engagement (DCE) programs. The title is somewhat misleading as the guide is written in such a way that it could be used for many more applications – not just DCE. The guide was developed principally for “development professionals who already have some knowledge of the concepts of citizen engagement (CE) and evaluation and who are interested in understanding more about the contribution that a digital approach can bring to citizen engagement and how that contribution can best be evaluated.”

At its core, the guide provides a methodology for evaluating the extent to which digital tools have contributed to citizen engagement and understanding the impact that the introduction of technology has had on CE processes.

Not only does it provide tools for evaluating the impact of DCE programs, it also provides a step-by-step description of how to design, implement and assess the effectiveness of a DCE program. Chapter 4, which comprises 40% of the document, presents a detailed methodology for scoping, designing, planning & implementing, analyzing, and testing and reporting of the findings. For examples, the guide draws from actual studies done in Brazil, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya.

When evaluating a DCE program, there is a set of interconnected issues and factors that need to be considered, such as program goals, power dynamics and control, who participates, intended and achieved results and choices of technology to use. All of these issues and factors need to be considered and evaluated to ensure the DCE program addresses the right things and achieves the intended results. The guide introduces a very useful construct called a “lens” for evaluating these interrelated components of a DCE program. A lens is a way of looking at the DCE from a specific perspective. Think of it as a criteria. There guide defines five lenses:

Table 1

OBJECTIVE, CONTROL, PARTICIPATION, TECHNOLOGY and EFFECTS. Table 1 describes what each lens looks at and the action it entails. This multifaceted view afforded by “applying” the lenses will help ensure that important and subtle issues are not overlooked.

Another aspect of the guide that I really liked was that it is replete with resources: tips, examples, readings, DCE projects, software tools. If you’re considering implementing or evaluating a DCE program, this free publication is for you.

Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience

Survey: Better Citizen Engagement Trends/Reduced Budgets

As part of a digital engagement trends report, the firm GovDelivery conducted a survey of 1,100+ government communicators at the local, state and federal level in the US and UK at the end of last year to find out what their priorities were for 2016. While some of the survey results are not surprising – in fact, they are expected – other results are very interesting and reflect a shift in governments’ thinking about citizen engagement.

In last year’s survey, some 51% of respondents indicated that improving citizen experience was a top priority. In this year’s survey, the figure is 82% – a major increase. Clearly, governments now understand the significance of providing a positive citizen experience. Good news here.

When asked what their four top challenges were for 2016, not surprisingly, 60% listed lack of budget and 50% lack of resources. Forty-five percent cited driving audience engagement with content and 40% driving customer satisfaction with online services.

The latter two challenges were not even mentioned in last year’s survey. These results reflect a recognition that achieving citizen engagement and satisfaction is not easy. But where do respondents perceive the challenges to be? User education, for one. Eighty-three percent believe their target audience has no or just a limited understanding of the services their agencies provide. Training is also a major challenge. Forty-three percent of the respondents felt they were not sufficiently trained on digital trends. An additional 24% were unsure if the training they had received was sufficient.

Websites remain the top digital communications channels (87%) followed by social media (63%) and email (51%). And that’s where the investment dollars are going. Forty percent of respondents indicated website improvements had the highest return on investment, followed by social media programs (22%) and messaging – eMail and SMS (17%).

I found the results of the survey very encouraging. I see a focus on the right things and a realistic assessment of the complexity of implementing effective citizen eServices. What’s the expression? Half of the solution is understanding what the problem is…

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.

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.

Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience

So You Want to Optimize Citizen Experience?

There’s a plethora of articles and white papers about the importance of optimizing citizen experience (OCE) in eGovernment and all the benefits it brings. So let’s say you’re sold on the concept and decide to embark on a citizen experience improvement program for your organization/agency. How do you go about it?

The first question to ask is: What is it exactly that you’re trying to achieve? Or, put another way, what problem are you trying to solve? It has been my experience that OCE implementers commonly focus either on a subset of all the things that need to be done or on the wrong things altogether.

Rick Parrish, a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, has articulated the problem very succinctly:

“When people think about improving the customer [citizen] experience, oftentimes they think about these surface-level solutions only. They think it’s only skin deep. But to really create an organization from the ground up or, sometimes even more difficult, changing an existing organization – to really be focused on the customer experience – goes far deeper than just the sort of thin patina that the customers actually deal with on the surface.

“We really [need to] break this down to a series of different disciplines of customer experience: there’s strategy, there’s customer understanding, there’s design, there’s metrics – measurement, there’s governance and there’s culture. And if you’re missing one of those, you’re not getting the whole picture – which is why this idea of improving the customer experience isn’t really just about this particular touchpoint or that particular interaction. It’s really about creating or recreating an organization that’s designed to function from the outside in.”

The point here is that improving citizen experience involves many dimensions and is a complex thing to do because each dimension is a discipline in and of itself. Take, for example, something as simple as making data available on line. As Mr. Parrish again puts it very succinctly: “[There’s a] difference between having information technically available and actually making it discoverable and easy to use. There’s a lot of information that’s out there but if it’s not easily discoverable or easily usable by people, the “product” is OK but the experience is terrible.”

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Citizen Engagement Citizen Experience

Enriching the Citizen Experience

I recently read a very good article by Patrick Ibarra, former city manager of Port Angeles, WA, and now a management consultant. He makes a very interesting and, in my opinion, important point: It’s not enough for government to deliver services efficiently; it should also provide a rich experience that fosters a sense of place in the process – what he calls “that important feeling of connection and belonging so central to a community’s well-being”

He makes the case that people (read: citizens) are seeking both quality and convenience. They are looking for ease of use, special privileges (e.g., special access) and an overall pleasurable user experience. Providing a rich services experience is not just a good thing for government to do; citizens are increasingly expecting it and, in the not too distant future, will be demanding it (See my post Why Citizen Experience Matters).

Can government deliver services in a manner that they provide emotionally enriching experiences? Ibarra argues that it has less to do with the size of budgets and more with the attitudes of the government officials providing these services. I would go a step beyond: I believe it’s a cultural issue. It’s not that anyone in the government is doing anything wrong; it’s just that, historically, their focus and – very importantly – their measures have been on functionality, cost and efficiency. We’re talking here of a cultural change akin to that of a government going from an autocracy to a democracy – it’s a whole new perspective.

So I believe the answer is yes, but it’s going to be an evolutionary process, partly driven by a generational change. The catalysts are organizations such as USDS and 18F in the US and GDS in the UK, that are bringing in people from industry who are well-versed on best commercial practices, particularly user experience, into the government and seeding them across its IT workforce. We’re just at the very early stages of that process, though.

An interesting idea Ibarra proposes to “enrich the emotional connection” is for the government to offer rewards programs just like those in private industry. Some examples: giving municipal swimming and recreation center season-pass holders discounts on recreation programs; loyalty programs for frequent airport parking lot users and longer check-out periods for public library customers with spotless overdue-book records for a year. These programs would certainly foster goodwill (and, in the case of the library programs, good behavior). But would they also foster inequality? After all, favoritism is the antithesis of democratic government. What do you think?

Smart Cities

The Return of the City-State?

As national and state governments become increasingly gridlocked by partisan politics, lack of consensus and massive budget cutbacks, cities have been assuming an increasingly important role as engines of national economic growth. This is a fascinating trend. Cities are:

  • teaming with surrounding municipalities; forming “metropolitan alliances” to craft joint strategies for economic development and promote investment,
  • collaborating with private industry, academia and community groups to put into action projects and smart investments that will enhance their cities’ global economic competitiveness,
  • fostering innovation to develop creative solutions to their economic challenges and create economic competitive advantage, and
  • in some instances, assuming greater powers and responsibilities – often as a result of negotiations with their national governments.

Cities have achieved remarkable transformations, particularly after the devastating recession of 2008.

A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) titled “Local Economic Leadership” profiles four European cities – Amsterdam, Hamburg, Manchester and Stockholm – and the results they have achieved through partnerships, peer to peer learning and multi-stakeholder engagement.

Within the United States, the Brookings Institution teamed with JPMorganChase in 2012 to form the Global Cities Initiative – a $10 million, five-year project aimed at helping the leaders of US metropolitan areas strengthen their regional economies by becoming more competitive in the global marketplace. At present, 28 metropolitan areas are participating in GCI’s Exchange Program that helps cities “develop and implement regional strategies to boost global trade and investment, forge partnerships between U.S. and international metropolitan areas, and advocate for state and national policy changes.”

So what does it take for a city/metropolitan area to succeed? According to Bruce Katz, co-director of GCI and Vice-President at the Brookings Institution: “Cities and metropolitan areas have important roles and responsibilities—land use, zoning, managing our children’s education and housing our institutions of higher education as well as our biggest private companies and leading-edge entrepreneurs. All that taken together is the innovation ecosystem that drives economies forward… Cities and metropolitan areas are succeeding because they have the assets that the economy requires and the infrastructure to move people, goods, energy, services and ideas. They’re home to incredible innovation — not just idea generation but also production, advanced manufacturing and skilled workers.”

So, who knows? As legislative bodies, particularly in the United States, continue to be mired in dysfunction and inaction – totally oblivious to the needs of their constituents and the nation – might we see the re-emergence of the city-state?