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Towards More Responsive Citizen Services

By Brett Swartz posted Apr 15,2019 11:02 AM

By Brett Swartz, Director of Public Sector, Liferay

It seems like every time I turn on the TV, I see an ad promising to save me time and money. Most of the time I’m skeptical, to say the least, but I understand the appeal. Who wouldn’t want to spend less and be more efficient at the same time? Despite public perceptions, that’s as true for public sector entities as it is for individuals. One way that governments are trying to do this is by rejuvenating their online presence to be more appealing and conducive to citizen self-service.


For example, the IRS issued a report finding that, during the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2014, live assistance cost the agency anywhere from “$42.33 per live-assistance call to $53.64 per inbound correspondence.” By comparison, each digital transaction cost only $0.22. As a result, the agency determined that “digital taxpayer service presents an opportunity for the IRS to greatly reduce costs of taxpayer service and provide more capacity to meet growing demand for taxpayer service.” Likewise, the California DMV has begun experimenting with deploying self-service kiosks in grocery stores, allowing members of the public to complete tasks like renewing their vehicle registration while shopping.


These are precisely the sorts of initiatives citizens are looking to see more of. A recent survey from Conduent and the Center for Digital Government found that 62% of respondents wanted to see state governments experiment more with new technologies, while 31% percent of respondents were looking for easier use of online services (more than half of the respondents had trouble accessing government services online) and 72% were interested in accessing government services on mobile devices. Indeed, it’s often the online component, particularly on mobile devices, that’s the key to improving citizen service. Sometimes overlooked in today’s world of interest in blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence, the humble website is still how most citizens interact with their governments in the digital realm. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more state governments can do to empower citizens to help themselves online, the happier those citizens will be and the more cost-efficient their governments will become.


A recent RFP from the City of Albany, NY - whose site hasn’t been refreshed in many years - perfectly encapsulates this thinking. The RFP starts by noting that “the City expects the vendor to reengineer the site to better reflect the City’s emphasis on “improving citizen engagement, communication and using the latest technology” [emphasis mine] before delving into its explicit requirements. In practice there is no “one size fits all” approach that’s likely to succeed for every state and local government. However, certain elements will remain the same. Every site needs a modern, appealing, interface, a degree of personalization for visitors, direct access to services and an easy way to change and replace content on the backend.


None of this is particularly new or controversial, however, it will involve an initial investment of time and resources to implement. The promise of “saving time and money,” however, is well worth it.