Government Usability: Designing Public Services that Empower and Engage

New York is the latest US city to announce a municipal ID service like in San Francisco and New Haven. There has been extensive coverage of the challenges other cities have faced and the potential to help marginalized groups like the homeless, undocumented immigrants and foster children. What can we learn from the challenges other cities have faced during their rollouts?

Bureau Blank founder, Dan Blank, spoke with Mirela Iverac of WNYC this morning about the importance of making the New York City ID card as appealing as possible to all NYC residents.

How can we design a comprehensive New York City ID service that appeals widely to New Yorkers?

1. Engage residents from the beginning to assess the range of needs, motivations and pain points the card could address.

Given the city’s desire to create as broad an appeal as possible, it makes sense to involve residents from the beginning. What challenges could the card ease for New Yorkers?

Could the cards facilitate getting into the doctor’s office or library? What about access to government services and benefits or MTA discounts and banking access? Answering these questions early and building them into the program increases trust in public systems and makes it more likely that the cards will be adopted.

Similarly, what values make a New Yorker? Why do residents choose New York and how can the program showcase the decision to live in this unique city? If the card can be a badge of honor for making a life in New York City, a symbol of a real New Yorker, then the city will see fast adoption among residents.

2. Create a comprehensive experience and message that allows a reciprocal relationship between the city and residents.

What will it feel like go from interested resident to active cardholder? What kind of messaging will build public trust and what kind of experience will deliver on it? These questions must be answered ahead of time if the New York City ID going to succeed. Even seemingly small details like copies of application documents and how the card looks and feels will inform whether the program is accepted and used widely. Will New Yorkers who have the cards feel connected, accepted, safe?

Ultimately, residents will decide: does this card make my life any better? If the program is well-designed there is huge potential for this answer to be an overwhelming yes.

In designing and rolling out the New York City ID, the city stands on the frontier of citizen empowerment and engagement. When you increase access to key services like education, medical care and transportation, there are widespread benefits like reduced crime and chronic disease. These factors all influence the ability to keep a job, purchase a home and make a dignified life for yourself and your family. Engaged, active citizens create healthy, thriving communities. This program is a chance to provide those advantages to our most vulnerable residents and create a system through which we all benefit.

Do you have ideas about how make the New York City ID succeed? Let us know on Twitter @bureaublank with hashtag #IDNYC.

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Bureau Blank is a design and marketing consultancy working exclusively with government and public systems in New York City. To learn more about creating public services that engage and empower communities, check out our recent work with Department of Probation’s My NeONs app. Also check out our posts about messaging for a broad audience and our work on NYC’s Paid Sick Leave campaign!

Photo by Nathan Congleton.

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