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 Digital Government

From Consumerism to Citizenship

Jon Alexander founded the New Citizenship Project after working for a decade in the advertising and marketing industry. His agenda is to find ways to apply the skills of marketing for genuinely positive social and environmental ends.

I had heard about Jon’s crusade to encourage business and government alike to think less about consumers and more about citizens. I was keen to get his perspectives on how government service could be improved by a more citizen focused perspective.

According to Jon, the discipline of thinking about citizens makes organisations much better at innovating new services that are, by their very nature, more collaborative and more fit for purpose. The consumer era was characterized by feeding services to willing recipients. The citizen era is much more about active participation where both sides of service provision have skin in the game.

“There’s a big trend to talk about customers or consumers in government. That, in itself, is dangerous. When you think of people as consumers there’s only really one interaction they can have – which is to ‘buy’ from you. If you think of people as citizens and you start using that language then you start coming up with different ideas.  If you think about citizens you want to work with you start to think differently about how you develop services. By working with people you can involve them in designing and developing the service.”

In the video, below, Jon first outlines how citizenship differs from consumerism. In the second half of the discussion he provides advice to government leaders as to how to transition from one world to another.