Government Engagement With Constituents: Do We Have A Problem?


This is my very first blog post for GovLoop, and I’m excited to be one of this season’s Featured Bloggers. I’ll be writing once a week on a number of government-related topics, but the one that really intrigues me is this: government engagement with citizens and how it can improve.

So here’s the first question: does it need to improve?

The answer: oh yes. Yes, it does.

In today’s highly connected world, it seems like there’s a lot to be positive about. The potential for constituents to engage with government is at an all-time high. A dizzying array of channels are available, many of them at any time of day or night.

That’s also a key part of the problem.

All these new channels – Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and everything mobile-enabled – present opportunities to communicate. And as opportunities increase, so do expectations. If a channel exists, and constituents can send a message through it, they expect a response. Government agencies who don’t have a strong action plan for fielding these inquiries will find themselves quickly underwater.

So what’s the scope of the problem? Just how unhappy are constituents with the interactions and service they receive from government?

Unfortunately, recent findings indicate they’re pretty unhappy.

Per the ACSI Federal Government Report 2015, citizen satisfaction with the federal government declined for the third year in a row. Average satisfaction is just a tad under 64 points on a 100-point scale. That’s not a great rating, and it’s not headed in the right direction.

The same study found a direct correlation between customer service satisfaction and trust in government. So the unhappy constituents are also distrustful constituents. Which is definitely a problem.

Some other tidbits from a 2015 Pew Research study:

  • Only 20% of respondents said government programs are well-run
  • 59% said the federal government needs major reform
  • Perception varies a great deal by agency: while only 39% of respondents have a favorable opinion of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Postal Service ranked the highest among 17 agencies and departments with an 84% favorable perception.

There are plenty of other numbers to look at, which we can do in the coming weeks. But the picture isn’t pretty. If constituents are unhappy, something needs to be done. It isn’t necessarily a question of service quality. Even if people eventually get what they want, if they have to fight for it along the way, they won’t be satisfied.

And it’s not all about the numbers. The best government agencies know their constituents, and they know what their constituents want. No one is actively trying to avoid positive, productive engagement. But there are so many other concerns — constrained resources, budget challenges, a lack of social media savvy — that get in the way of achieving the goal of getting constituents what they want when they want it.

Let’s start thinking of solutions.

Jael Maack is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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