When It Comes to Online Government Services…It’s All in the Family
Accountable to the people. That is the hallmark of democracy and constant totem all elected government officials symbolically carry with them while they serve. However, most elected officials feel like they have two separate jobs. Job one is handling the often interesting and occasionally exciting process of legislating, regulating, enforcing and developing public policy. Job two is constituent service – answering phone calls, responding to letters and emails, performing casework, holding townhalls and generally being accountable to the citizens who elected them. While job two may seem mundane or even irritating to some, it is just as important, and often more so, to the ongoing tenure of the government official and the health of our democracy.
When I worked in Congress, every congressional staffer I managed was responsible for working with constituents at least some of the time and many did so on a full-time basis. To stress the importance of constituent service to our team, I often asked them to consider how they would want our government to treat their family – a parent, grandparent or sibling – if they contacted their government official for help or to express an opinion. I don’t know if that advice ever made this part of the job more exciting for anyone, but I know that, in many cases, constituents received greater attention and had a better experience working with our government because everyone had this type of approach. Couple that approach with a dedicated, patriotic and professional staff that worked in our office, and you had a powerful combination that truly represented the people and actually helped them every day.
Since coming to Adobe, I have had an opportunity to work with leaders from countries all over the world as they’ve sought to improve their citizens’ online interactions with government. One thing I’ve noticed is that people everywhere have high expectations when they go online to utilize services or obtain information from government agencies or ministries. This only makes sense. After all, for decades now, private businesses have been providing high-quality online interactions to attract and keep customers. So, it’s only reasonable for citizens to expect similar – if not better – online treatment from their governments.
Over the years, Adobe has carefully researched what people expect from their governments when it comes to online services. The research consistently confirms that, as with any online experience, people want to use functional, efficient and well-designed websites and platforms when seeking and obtaining government services online. However, the study also showed that many have needs that go much deeper. More fundamentally, people want a positive, relationship-building experience when dealing with their government.
In our work, we have looked at some of the most important elements of a good online citizen experience, including:
- Citizen Journey – effectiveness and value of the interaction from beginning to end
- Mobile – availability of services and information on smartphones and tablets
- Design – quality of graphics, visuals and content
- Relevance – tailored to the user’s needs and situation
- Relationship – impact on relations between a citizen and the government agency
Through my interactions with people in different parts of the world, it’s become evident that these factors – and therefore the definition of a positive citizen experience – vary from country to country. Of course, this is to be expected given the cultural differences and variations in development.
For example, citizens often express general satisfaction in the government services they receive online, which reflects the government’s priorities and recent investments in this area. However, with limited internet access for a large swatch of India’s citizens, the number of citizens who accessed online government services was low and dependent on mobile devices. Therefore, while people in India are generally pleased with the design and functionality of the government’s online services, many see a need to improve access to online help and more reminders being sent via email or text, which is precisely what one might expect in a country scaling access to online services meet growing demands among its citizens.
Contrast that to Japan, where the uptake of the government’s online services is relatively low, even though more than 90 percent of the people have internet access and a strong technological infrastructure is in place. Many Japanese citizens express desire to see improvements in the functionality, attractiveness and other design-related aspects of the government’s online services and platforms. This also makes sense to anyone who has spent time in Japan as their society has so many design elements that are aesthetically pleasing.
On the one hand, here in the United States, many citizens are generally pleased with the functionality and ease of online interactions but would like to see improvements in design and relationship management, largely to make interactions more enjoyable. German citizens, on the other hand, will often talk about the need for improved access to relevant content. This makes sense in a society where privacy is so heavily valued and providing relevant content in an online environment often requires useful data about the citizen seeking services.
Across different countries, citizens regularly identify specific features that would improve their government’s digital services. Much like in an online retail environment, listening to that direct feedback from citizens and making improvements in the specified areas builds significant trust between the government and its citizens. With trust in government reaching all-time lows in many countries, this should be wake up call. Fortunately, it’s one that can easily be addressed.
Governments around the world have invested heavily in the introduction and development of online services. Thus far, most of the attention has been given to factors like infrastructure and security. When it comes to actually providing online services, the focus has been on basic functionality. All this work is and will continue to be essential, but it’s not enough.
As citizens speak and governments listen, it is evident that in order to build trust and improve state-citizen relationships, citizens’ online experiences need to be more individualized and adaptable. Services and systems need to be tailored to people’s needs and anticipate concerns in order to address them in advance. In short, leaders should do the same thing we were doing in our little government office several years ago…treat the citizens as if they were your family. Listen. Consider how they’d like the government to serve and interact with their family members and design their online services accordingly. Because, after all, we are all family.