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

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?

Big Data and Government Digital Policy Government Cloud

New Citizen Expectations: Smartphone Generation

In this interview with Bill Annibell of Sapient Government Services, Bill outlines how citizen to government engagement processes have had to change. To some extent it’s about the smartphone. To another it’s about much greater citizen expectations.

But delivering service, given these expectations, is challenging.

Bill outlines how too many government requests are for technology solutions rather than solutions that enrich the relationship between citizen and government entity. He talks about how so many government processes are separated and distinct rather than joined-up.

Bill makes a strong case for joined-up thinking and about all levels of government getting together to think about things from citizen perspectives.

Bill covers quite some ground in this interview…how he uses research to better understand customer need, how some levels of government ‘get it’ better than others. He talks about 18F, FedRAMP, and Generation Y.

Great insight from someone who understands how citizens and government can work better together.

Citizen Engagement Digital Government Digital Policy

Survey Reveals Need for Citizen Focused Approach

A survey of senior-level US government employees has revealed mixed results in the implementation of digital tools and services.

The Government Business Council released last month the results of a survey of senior-level Federal government employees about their perceptions, attitudes, and experiences regarding digital tools and service delivery.

The study, underwritten by Accenture, surveyed 400 GS/GM-11 and above and Senior Executive Service members from across 30 civilian and federal agencies. 40% of the respondents hold program/project management or technical/scientific positions. The remaining were spread across multiple job functions.

Some key findings:

Use of Digital Tools and Services

  • Federal agencies could do better at fostering a collaborative work culture. Only 38% of respondents considered their agency’s culture as being collaborative or very collaborative.
  • Nearly 90% of the participants use one or more digital collaboration tools (e.g., CRM systems, tools like SharePoint, instant messaging). 40% use at least three tools.
  • Results were mixed when asked to rate their agency’s use of collaboration tools. 40% rated their agency’s use of tools as Good or Excellent. About 30% deemed it Satisfactory and the remaining 30% rated it Poor or Unsatisfactory. Use of digital service delivery and engagement tools was rated slightly better.
  • Three out of four participants consider the results from using digital tools or services to be positive. The most often mentioned benefits listed were:
    • Improved employee efficiency or productivity (49%)
    • Easier for customers to receive service (48%)
    • Saved customers time (37%)
    • Improved accuracy of our data (36%)
    • Cost savings (33%)

Barriers to Implementation

  • Not surprising, budget constraints (63%) and security/privacy concerns (57%) were listed as the major barriers to digital tools and services.
  • Interestingly enough, cultural resistance was listed as a major barrier by 42% of the respondents.
  • Only 22% of participants felt their agency is allocating an appropriate level of funding for digital tools and services.
  • Views on the cost-effectiveness of digital tools were divergent. 57% of the respondents felt the tools were somewhat or very cost effective. 12% felt they were not and 31% simply didn’t know.

It is encouraging that three quarters of the participants view the results of digital tools and services as positive and consider these tools better utilized for customer/employee engagement and service delivery than tools used for collaboration. However, it is clear from the mixed results that their value and utility are far from being viewed as a resounding success.

It is interesting that improving citizen engagement was not listed or viewed as a benefit. I view this as a reflection of the fact that culturally, at the Federal government level, the citizen is still viewed as a consumer of services. It is not until this perception changes that we will see expansive initiatives at the Federal level that promote/enable citizen participation in government. State and local governments are leading the charge in this regard, partly because the scale of the effort and cost of the investment are much smaller. These efforts combined with grassroots movements and rising citizens’ expectations will eventually drive change into the broader central government.