Last week, I published my assessment of what’s happened in the past year to implement the Federal Web Manager Council’s White Paper: Putting Citizens First – Transforming Online Government. Since then, I’ve been thinking about what could kick-start real progress in implementing the vision of this paper…and a broader government-wide commitment to Citizen Services. So here it is: I think it’s time to have a Citizen Services Summit. Bring together the best and brightest to tackle these challenges and get things moving.
Pull together a few (no more than 50) top citizen services managers, advocates, and experts from within and outside of government for a one-day summit. Use the White Paper as the starting point – no point reinventing the wheel. And since data shows that citizens are accessing the government via the internet more than any other way, it makes sense to start by looking at services that are (or should be) delivered online. But pay special attention to that Recommendation 12 that calls for making sure citizens get the same answer no matter how they interact with government.
Rather than a gab-fest about what could be, make this a product-driven day, resulting in a plan – with specific follow-up actions. Keep the focus on improving citizen services, and discuss technology only within that construct. Hire a professional facilitator – one who can keep the group on course, with no personal agenda.
Who Should Be There?
Well, of course, representatives of the Federal Web Managers Council and some of the folks at GSA who are responsible for government-wide Citizen Services (Martha Dorris, Teresa Nasif, Bev Godwin, etc.). Representatives from OMB who deal with accountability and productivity. Representatives from the White House communications team (especially the New Media group). Representatives of the government Public Affairs Officers. Vivek Kundra and/or representatives of the CIO Council. People inside government who can make the outcomes happen.
And just as many people from outside government…because they can bring a fresh perspective and additional knowledge to the table. People like Gerry McGovern (international expert on web customer service), one or more established usability/user-centered design experts (Jakob Nielson, Jared Spool, Kath Straub, or others), web communication experts (like Ginny Reddish and Annetta Cheek, from the plain language movement), someone from Pew’s Internet and American Life project, someone from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and key government advocates who are willing to get involved in action (like Craig Newmark). Make it a politically balanced group by including people like David Almacy, former Bush White House internet director. Maybe include some think tank folks who are studying how government serves citizens through the internet. Maybe a representative or two from other nations (like the UK or Canada) who are making real strides in improving citizen services online.
What Would They Do?
Start by looking at the evidence – what do we know about what citizens want from their government, online? Examine usability data and customer satisfaction data and other evidence. Then look at the current status – what’s working and what isn’t? But don’t spend too much time on this – it’s not rocket science. We don’t need more debate – we need action. Give participants some (or all) of this background before the summit and tell them it’s “homework.” Use the in-person time to craft strategy and plans.
Establish some ground rules, like “check political agendas and sales pitches at the door” and “data and evidence about what citizens want and need will trump what we THINK they want or need” and “great service is job one – period.”
Go through the White Paper, identifying exactly what needs to happen to implement each recommendation (e.g., issue a memo or train staff) and, as important, who needs to act to make it happen. If you hit a contentious issue, table it for the time being; and come back to it later. Make this a positive, results-oriented, collegial gathering.
At the end of the day, recap the actions planned, make sure everyone knows what he/she has agreed to do to help, and put the plan in writing. Share it widely and publicly. Track completion.
How Do We Set This In Motion?
I’m thinking GSA, with its government-wide “citizen services” mission, is the logical organizer/convener. The Web Managers Council has to be involved in all aspects, from identifying invitees to developing the background data and information to articulating the status and barriers to implementation of the White Paper. Web Managers have a huge amount of knowledge to share. Advocates outside government can help by endorsing the idea in blogs and Tweets and talking to their friends inside government, to encourage action. And raising their hands to join in.
The White Paper laid out a vision that we all should support – a vision that requires a real cross-government (and, in some cases, maybe beyond government) commitment to working together to fix problems, break down barriers, and do what needs to be done to make U.S. government websites the most citizen-friendly service outlets in the world.
Let’s not just talk about it – let’s do it!