Improving Service With Citizen Personas



Of course you want to serve your citizens. Right? It’s the most important part of a government agency’s mission. But sometimes it’s an abstract concept – helping someone in general, instead of helping someone in particular.


Other industries, such as publishing or marketing, handle this problem by developing “personas.” When testing out possible titles or covers for a new book, publishers develop “reader personas” – fleshed-out profiles of the types of readers they want the book to appeal to. Once they’ve decided who the ideal reader is, they can design with her in mind. Is the book a dark thriller, meant for readers who like to be drawn into a murky, tense world? Then the cover image shouldn’t be a smiling woman merrily kicking her feet up on a porch swing. There’s nothing wrong with that cover, but it’s meant for a different reader and a different book.

Similarly, sales and marketing departments in the private sector often put together “buyer personas.” They think about the customers they want to attract and the decision-makers they want to appeal to. Based on that, they build a picture of what each person looks like, from all angles. A typical buyer persona might include the potential customer’s demographics, income, use of social media, wants and needs, and other factors that go into how they make decisions. Then a campaign to appeal to that buyer – should it be email? Social? What messages should be used? – can be built and executed, with a much greater chance of success than building the campaign in a vacuum.

The same principle can work for government. Building a set of “citizen personas” for those who use your services can be incredibly helpful in determining whether you’re meeting their needs. For example, a human services department issuing benefits might build a persona for each of the following types of participants:

  • A busy young mother who prefers to do everything on her phone, usually in the evening
  • A senior cardholder in need of food assistance who rarely leaves home
  • A family new to the state that might be eligible for multiple programs but needs help sorting out how to apply

In the best-case scenario, the services you provide can accommodate all the personas you develop. But sometimes changes need to be made. In that case, you can figure out how many of your citizens fit into one persona versus another, and set priorities accordingly. Maybe you want to tackle improving your eligibility determination process first, and plan ahead with next year’s budget to add voice response and mobile-enabled customer care functionality – maybe even an app – to serve the customers who prefer those channels.

Personas do take some time to develop, but time spent thinking about your end customer is definitely time well spent.

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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