Some places in the world the phrase “citizen services” might elicit a small yawn. But here in DC, it is – quite literally – a reason to get up in the morning. That is precisely how I found myself in the basement of the W Hotel at 6:30 AM on a Wednesday morning with some of the brightest minds in government IT.
The event was FCW’s Citizen Engagement Summit and the topic was “Meeting the Demands of the Digital Citizen.” The concept of digital services has become the norm in government as agencies work to make government websites easy to use and available online anywhere and on any device. Discussion points included Cloud, Agile, DevOps, mobility, human-centered design – all topics that used to be reserved only for Silicon Valley but are now finding their way to northwest DC and beyond.
Advancements in technology – and the people behind it – to fuel innovation in government is something we can all get excited about. Here are five of the best things I heard from the pros who led the day.
1. Go and use the system you are building.
Human-centered design is all about beginning with your customers and creating a solution that meets their needs. Some might say that is easier said than done. But there are small things you can do right now to address it. Start by trying to use the system you are building. Can you navigate with ease? Can you find the form you need on your phone? Does it make sense? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then first, good on you for trying it out, and second, it’s time to go talk to your customers.
2. Don’t forget to bring your workforce into the solution.
In the world of citizen services, it can be easy to discount internal systems that are not public facing. The dedicated men and women of the federal workforce are a powerful force for engagement, and the systems that they use to do things like administer services, record data and provide training should be just as elegant and easy to use as public systems. Involving internal stakeholders in the conversation also uncovers a wealth of knowledge and insight often formed over decades of services that can help break down silos and foster a culture of collaboration that can drive future changes that help everyone.
3. If you’re reading the requirements document, you probably wrote it.
Yikes. As someone who wrote her fair share of requirements documentation back in the day, this one made me cringe. Mostly because it is absolutely true. I’ve often wondered what happened to the pages and pages of system documentation that I wrote and reviewed in the days of waterfall. Did it one day help to save the day? Did a stressed out engineer turn to page 347 of my requirements doc and suddenly shout “Ah ha! NOW we can fix it!” Probably not. The truth is, modern citizens do not have time for extensive system documentation – that’s why agencies need Agile, Scrum and DevOps now to provide value to citizens early and often.
4. We are in touch with our customers because we ARE our customers.
This is a direct quote from the US Forest Service who spoke about the tools they are building to better engage citizens in recreational activities. She was referencing how agency staff love to camp and hike as much as their customers do, so they have a deep, authentic understanding of their customer base. This made me think two things: first, that is exactly how everyone in IT should behave; and, second, wow, I need to get outside more.
5. You have to believe.
Changing a culture is hard. Using new tools is hard. Thinking and acting in a different way is hard. But, as one speaker so eloquently stated, it comes down to belief. If you believe you can rebuild systems around customers and people – you will. I for one hope there are a lot of believers out there!
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