What is the Citizen Experience in the 21st Century?

new york city skyline

The role of the government and the services it provides are a crucial part to the fabric of society. From paying taxes, to renewing a passport, to letting citizens know if a thunderstorm is on its way – the government plays an essential role in our day-to-day lives.

With the rapid adoption of digital and internet technologies, citizens are now more informed than ever about government programs, services and policies.  In addition, citizens demand a superior customer experience from their governments, and expect them to utilize and embrace the latest technology – just like what they would expect from major corporations.

Accenture’s 2013 Citizen Survey showed a high correlation between public services’ use of digital channels, and the overall satisfaction of their users.  Essentially, when governments provide digital services that meet citizens’ needs, these citizens’ overall satisfaction with these public services tends to increase.

Despite governments moving towards improving the digital user experience, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Let’s examine some of the ways in which governments are making strides to revamp the citizen experience for the 21st century.

What do citizens want out of their digital experiences with the government?

The public sector often looks to the private sector for tech trends and operational strategies, picking and choosing ones that are applicable to them with the goal of assembling a maximally efficient and cost-effective approach.  In fact, this approach has been a primary strategy for developing the citizen experience in the public arena.

Governments are actively seeking the characteristics of a top-tier customer experience, aiming to recreate this for their citizens. So what are these characteristics?

The #1 characteristic is empowerment – the ability for citizens to perform the tasks they need to accomplish with maximum convenience, speed and transparency of information.

Secondly, the ability to personalize by providing flexible systems that allow each citizen to interact in their preferred ways.

Thirdly, creating multi-channel convenience and responsive design, which are trends that have swept the worlds of retail and consumer services in recent years. With the proliferation of smartphones, companies in the private sector are facilitating experiences that jump between various devices and brick-and-mortar settings.  In turn, governments must begin emulating this seamless experience for their citizens.

What are governments doing to deliver exceptional citizen experiences?

To meet the towering demands of their citizens, government organizations around the world are strategizing in new ways when it comes to delivering exceptional citizen experiences. While every country takes its own approach, there are a few themes that can be traced across the globe:

1. Open Government

The Open Government Partnership is leading the charge for a large consortium of countries, with the “ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive”.

Throughout North America, Europe and Australia, governments are striving to promote more visibility into the processes that make up their operations, as well as offering insight into the capital allocations they make.

2. Country-based directives

Open Government has different interpretations and approaches from one country to the next. Generally, government organizations are looking to share more information with the public in an open, accessible manner. Modernized systems that increase availability include virtual libraries and centralized platforms for all citizens.

The below diagram shows how more transparent policies can break down silos, and lead to greater citizen participation and collaboration:

Venn diagram showing how an open government is a mix of transparency, collaboration and participation.Image source : Flickr

Governments have started incorporating technology into their plans, highlighting how important it plays in meeting their objective of open governance.  Below is a list of countries and their open government strategies:

An important part of the open government initiative is the transparency of the results, and the ability to demonstrate that tax dollars are being well-spent. One of the best ways that a government can do this in the 21st Century is by digitizing; making information public and easily-accessible for its citizens. As a result, many governments have put in place executive orders supporting digital government strategies.

An example of a digital government strategy can be found in the US, which complements several initiatives aimed at building a 21st century government that works better for the American people. These include references to various executive orders from streamlining service delivery and improving customer service, to delivering an efficient, effective and accountable government.

When reviewing these executive orders, an important message of performance measurement is highlighted, stressing the importance of budgets being well-spent to support the needs of society.  Essentially, performance measurement is defined in these executive orders to include:

  • Asking citizens for feedback
  • Establishing service standards
  • Tracking performance against those service standards
  • Creating industry benchmarks 

3. Getting practical

Governments are now implementing concrete standards for their digital strategies, and ensuring that performance management is included into any citizen-centric program. While guidelines for web accessibility vary from one country to the next, the agenda remains the same: develop better citizen experiences.

Below are examples of different government digital standards, which include recommendations for web accessibility standards:

Many countries are striving to incorporate web 2.0 best practices that focus on user experience, and are also emphasizing citizen-centric agendas for government programs and digital content, such as collecting digital analytics.

Measuring and optimizing citizen experience

As we are starting to see, measurement, analytics and feedback play an important part in not only modernizing the government, but also in creating an open government, leading the way to greater citizen satisfaction.

Essentially, there are three areas that governments must measure and optimize in order to improve the citizen experience:

1. Web analytics

Government organizations need to actively measure and improve the processes that make up the whole of the citizen experience.

One of the best examples of this is the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) in the US, which aims to “enable data-driven decisions on service performance“.  As part of this program, the US Federal Government has already created a unified web analytics account that helps government agencies understand how people find, access, and use government services online. Also in line with their open government policy, anyone can access the data on https://analytics.usa.gov.

Dashboard from analytics.usa.gov showing number of people on government websites

2. Voice of the Customer

To ensure governments are meeting website visitors’ expectations, they need to know what citizens think of the website, and where improvements can be made to better meet their needs.

The most efficient way to do this is by conducting Voice of the Customer (VoC) research, which is a research technique that encompasses the collective insights of your customer’s needs, wants and expectations across digital platforms (desktop, mobile & tablet). This is essential information that can only be achieved by directly asking your site visitors for this feedback.

Soon, the very same agency in the US that measures web analytics (Digital Analytics Program) will be launching a global Customer Satisfaction Survey Tool (CSST).  This tool will be rolled out to all federal government websites to measure citizen experience and satisfaction using 5 common questions.

3. Benchmarks

Once measurement is in place, it is inevitable that governments want to be able to understand whether their performance is considered good or bad, or whether it is meeting the standard. This is when benchmarks can provide context to understanding your performance, and how to evolve your site moving forward. Benchmarks are a powerful tool to identify important gaps between an organization’s current position and where it wants to be, and can also help to create a roadmap for change and lead to the creation of standards and best practices.

The Citizen Experience in the 21st Century is built on a complex ecosystem of different policies, directives and visions.  What is clear is that the commercial space is helping to lead the way for governments to be bold with their digital strategies, so that they may create an awesome experience for their citizens.  It is also important to see that measurement provided through the feedback of citizens is a crucial part in improving service and content delivery to the thousands of citizens that visit government websites every day.


This article was originally published on iperceptions.com.