This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop's research guide, "Fostering True Collaboration in Government
Collaboration is a common theme in government today because it can increase employee productivity, improve communication, enhance resource sharing and even cut costs. But in a drive to achieve these results, many collaboration projects forget the ultimate objective of government: serving citizens.
Too often, collaboration efforts improve internal operations while ignoring or even damaging the external face of government services. To understand how agencies should approach collaboration in a way that streamlines internal processes and also enhances constituent services, we sat down with Natalie Fedie, Vice President of Customer Success at Granicus. Granicus provides a holistic suite of services and tools to help government reach citizens more effectively.
Before an agency begins investing in technology, Fedie explained that leaders should rethink their efforts on a strategic level. “You can have the best systems in place to provide the best service, because those technologies are available today,” she said. “But, those systems have to provide a streamlined approach to the customer experience so that the constituent can access multiple departments, easily, at the same time.”
Rather than only considering the value of collaboration projects to internal cohorts, Fedie said constituent preferences should drive priorities and projects. That requires looking at services from an external perspective, often using strategies like customer journey mapping to understand how a constituent views your programs and processes. If services are related on a topical level but not on a programmatic or technical level, that disconnection can serve as an ideal place to start collaborating.
Ensure your collaboration efforts don’t disrupt constituent services by collaborating around areas of interests, such as housing or healthcare, rather than specific departments or functions like human resources or finance.
Rather than combining two departments because they share similar internal processes or tools, seek departments that provide similar services to constituents. By marrying those services in one portal or common process, employees can streamline the user experience for citizens. For example, a constituent would ideally be able to navigate between public health data and notifications about children’s vaccination requirements in a single place.
At the same time, agencies can reap the benefits of internal collaboration. “This approach forces government departments to collaborate more behind the scenes, so that they can streamline that customer experience with technology,” Fedie explained.
As agencies begin tying internal services together into a unified constituent experience, departments should invest in common platforms that can connect and support a diverse array of users and processes. For instance, with content management solutions like Granicus’ Civica CMS, departments can connect communications systems to create unified messaging and content in a single online portal.
The City of Santa Barbara, Calif., took this approach in 2012. Before, city services were communicated via a wide-ranging and chaotic variety of web portals, online calendars and direct messages. With Civica CMS, that changed. Now a single website hosts agendas, staff reports and meeting schedules for the city council and 38 boards and commissions.
That portal provides a host of benefits. Externally, constituents are able to easily navigate multiple city services, like accessing city council reports or requesting services from different departments, via one website. Internally, different teams are able to collaborate and increase efficiencies by using a single content management system to publish any city content or information. That saves the city money on licensing fees, because everyone uses the same technology. It also fosters collaboration.
When they leverage common platforms, government employees are encouraged to work together. As they use the same portal and processes, employees will also become more efficient. Different departments can share best practices, templates, and even staff to produce cohesive services for constituents. As a result, constituent services are improved, even as internal processes become more efficient and cost-effective.
Collaboration will continue to be a priority of government operations, especially as state and local resources decline. However, as Fedie reminded us, it’s imperative that collaboration goals don’t prevent agencies from meeting constituent needs.
Marrying efficiency goals with citizen demands requires a redesign of collaboration projects. Take an external view of your services, determine where they can be more streamlined and then encourage teams to rally around that goal. By creating common processes and tools for constituents, employees will naturally begin to share internal resources and ideas. That’s the ultimate goal of collaboration.