4 Tips to Start Gathering Citizen Feedback 

This blog was authored by Cliff Heyne, Citizen Experience Program Manager for Team North Dakota.

You are not your own customer. I was reminded of this recently when trying to find a link on a government website. I had to call the agency to find it. They got me to the right page, but I still couldn’t find the link. I scrolled up and down and combed over the text, but no dice. Turns out the link was there, in big, bold letters on a banner that spanned the width of the page. Just to make sure I wasn’t the only one who was overlooking the link, I had a few other people test out the page. They couldn’t find the link either. Despite the best efforts of the designer to make the link prominent, users naturally scrolled right past it because it didn’t conform to expected behavior.  

You are not your own customer is an important phrase to keep in mind when designing and delivering services. No matter how hard we might try to put ourselves in the mindset of our customers, we aren’t them. We have knowledge and experience about government operations that citizens don’t and shouldn’t need to have to acquire a service. Here are 4 ways to start making the voice of your citizen heard.  

  1. Leverage existing touchpoints 

Meet people where they are. Beyond being a good heuristic for life, it’s important when gathering feedback. Create opportunities in routine interactions so constituents don’t have to go out of their way to provide feedback. If citizens regularly come to your office to do business, put up posters at the exit with a number to text feedback to. Upon an initial text, the feedback system can ask if the user would like to answer additional questions. Consider journey mapping your services to not only improve the journey, but to determine where these natural opportunities exist to ask for feedback along the way.  

2.Lower the barrier 

“Good, but busy.” It seems like that’s the standard response to, “How’s it going?” Life isn’t slowing down, and the bar is continually being raised for quick, convenient service delivery. This means that we must ensure a low barrier to providing feedback. You might get trove of valuable data from a 15 question survey, but you’re also likely to have a high abandonment rate. Determine the key questions and stick with those. Even something as simple as a 1-5 star rating, which takes only a few seconds to complete, gives you enough data to inform where to start addressing issues. It doesn’t tell you why people are satisfied or not with a service, but spread out across service areas, it tells you which ones need the most attention. After that, you can start gathering data on the why with various techniques.  

3. Keep surveys simple 

Anyone can sign up for a free survey tool but gathering data that is both valid and reliable is exceedingly difficult. There is a plethora of traps that are easy to fall into when creating a survey. For example, you may create a double-barreled question where you ask two questions in one (hint – “and” in a survey question is a common indicator of this). You may use language that is subject to interpretation. Or, you may choose question types (e.g. multiple choice, Likert scale, question matrix, etc.) that don’t align well with the question you’re asking. This isn’t about you, personally, it’s about the difficulty of creating a survey. To help with this, consider sticking with pre-built surveys in whatever tool your using (assuming those are high quality), watch a few people take the survey and ask them to tell what they are thinking about when the answer the questions, or stick with open-text feedback over closed-ended, quantitative questions. Take North Carolina, for example. Many of their state government websites include a simple link that reads “How can we make this page better for you?”, which provides users with an open comment box to submit feedback.

4. Ask the right audience 

Another easy trap to fall into is gathering feedback from the wrong audience. I can’t tell you how many times, when asking someone if they gathered feedback on an initiative, they enthusiastically respond, “Yes! My boss loves it!” My follow up is, “Great, but have you asked anyone who will actually be using the service?” The answer is often times, “No.” I get it. It’s easy to ask those around us who know the business and what the new website, app, brochure, etc. needs to do. There’s even a term for it – convenience sampling. It’s harder to find the right constituents and receive feedback from them, but that’s what matters. Gathering feedback from the end users is key to making sure that we’re ultimately serving their needs, and not those of the agency.  

Whether on their own, or as part of a robust citizen experience strategy, each of these tips can help you better understand and respond to citizen feedback. At a higher level, these tips point to the creation of a Voice of Customer (VOC) program.

Shawn Riley is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Isaac Constans

Great article. It’s important to keep the right frame of mind and remember why you’re in public service. Making sure that you’re actually doing what you think you’re doing is a good reality check.