Creating Federal Services that Actually Work for People

A citizen-centric government experience will become the new normal in today’s digital world.

I had the recent privilege of attending the Citizen’s Engagement Summit in Washington to learn more about the greatest challenges agencies face in making citizens’ interactions with government as efficient and effective as possible. Speakers stressed how citizens need to be front and center throughout the lifecycle—after all, they’re the real “product owners” of the digital experience they are seeking. The conference was a great indicator that agencies are working to establish their digital services and move to a more agile approach in designing, implementing, and operating these services moving forward. That is good news for citizens.

There were three main ideas I wanted to share from the conference:

1.  The private sector, such as retail, has already developed best practices to engage citizens—termed consumer engagement points. Agencies likewise could define a set of specific citizen experience points (CEPs) where the citizen's (or an advocate's) input would be sought. Leveraging these CEPs would be a great start to bring together various stakeholders in the process, whether they be internal (an agency’s mission or IT staff) or external (citizens or other organizations).

2.  Panelists discussed the “why now” factors. It is clear that agencies are readying themselves to move quickly. Major factors include:

  • The Office of Management and Budget’s release of new draft policy directives and the significant funding targets around systems modernization on legacy systems (often referred to as systems of record).  Modernized systems of record will allow new capacity for citizen-facing capabilities (often referred to as systems of engagement). Today, these legacy systems often limit the capability to securely scale and bring enterprise services to the citizen.
  • New technologies available through cognitive and analytics are gaining in maturity, making them ideal candidates to be considered as viable solutions within the public sector.
  • New initiatives, such as the Federal Front Door program, are addressing customer service, customer satisfaction, and improved public-government interactions.

3.  Finally, the conference leaders focused on the biggest benefit of working on the challenges that citizens face: Anyone can bring ideas to the table from their own personal interactions with government. Ask yourself after your next interaction with a government agency, “How could I have had a superior customer experience?”

As a personal example, I recently navigated the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for my son. I could see many ways to streamline the experience. It was a very expensive process, in terms of time. Could that experience have been a step in a larger set of citizen experience points? For example, could I have been presented with information on additional local, state, or higher education scholarships or financial aid packages? Could information from my commercial Common Application be used in combination with my FAFSA information to pre-populate these applications? Could I have been provided a helper application to work through calculating my assets or even import this information from a popular software application? 

Government can move forward with positive, citizen-focused engagement in developing policies and applications for this and similar services that touch millions of Americans.  The Administration’s recent announcement of a Core Federal Services Council to focus on improving performance in key citizen-facing programs provides a great opportunity to help agencies serve their constituents. The OMB Memorandum announcing it states, “The Council will improve the customer experience by using public and private sector management best practices, such as conducting self-assessments and journey mapping, collecting transactional feedback data, and sharing such data with frontline and other staff.”  

How can you help design a superior citizen-centric experience? Comment on ideas you may have for creating a superior citizen experience.

These ideas continue to build on the Center’s effort to help government address major challenges and opportunities for government over the next several years.

Mark Fisk is a Partner within IBM's Global Business Services division.

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