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The role of experience management in disaster response and recovery

By Dr. Sydney Heimbrock and Phillip Bland

Natural disasters in 2021 alone cost $270B worldwide — and this amount is forecasted to keep rising. Governments at all levels have been required to include disaster response and recovery initiatives into their operating models in unprecedented ways. 

Recovering from a disaster is not just the responsibility of a single level of government — or even the government alone. It takes an orchestrated partnership to support a resident on the road to rebuilding and independence. Financial institutions, insurers, regulators, service providers and aid organizations are all critical in helping residents take the right steps to rebuild their lives after suffering the trauma of a natural disaster. 

The recovery journey’s complexity and the speed required to respond do not allow for traditional system and process development. With a large number of agencies involved and limited opportunity during an emergency to connect multiple agency systems together, experience management is a critical capability to master when it comes to being a front door to recovery. The ability to create re-usable insights through sensing and pulsing means governments can react swiftly without intrusive research methods.

Experience management is an emerging discipline, so the key question is: how does the government get started?

  1. Take stock of capability
  • The rise of design thinking in government creates the capability to operate in ambiguity by focusing on what is important to the outcome for people. Designers and builders in government are already adapting to lean, agile development for products, programs and policies. These skill sets are ready to take advantage of modern experience management platforms that enable human-centered design. 
  • Governments have become more diverse in their service offerings prior to disaster with cost of living programs, social outreach services and increased priority on supporting diversity and inclusion. The learnings from these programs enable leaders to think more widely to solve complex problems and accept that not every government interaction takes a clear, straight path to an outcome.
  • There is more listening to employee friction points than ever before. From regular pulses and well-being surveys, to internal portals for feedback and suggestions, modern public servants are more empowered than ever to have a voice in what they feel is best for the residents they serve.
  1. Prepare for agility
  • Accepting that there is little room for traditional research practices during natural disasters allows for innovation. Operating in a constrained environment pushes teams to find new ways to test assumptions and listen for pain points.
  • Timelines become faster than ever before to deliver on commitments. Senior government leaders need to provide clear and fast delivery timeframes to combat ambiguity, which can create further anxiety in the community. This can also be a catalyst to unify and prioritize cross-functional teams.
  • Acknowledge that the situation will change daily, if not hourly, at times. No one could have predicted that catastrophic fires and historic flooding would be compounded by a global pandemic. Being aware that what is right today may not work tomorrow, is crucial to developing iterative work practices.
  1. Structure an approach
  • Start with internal expertise to develop processes. Even if you can’t directly engage customers, frontline teams are one of the best sources for identifying pain points. Find out which channels and paths worked in the past, and build processes into journeys over time by learning through the delivery cycle.
  • Review what you have today. If you already have insights dashboards and reports, then find similarities to what is about to be delivered and factor that into design and development. You will not just save research costs, but also move faster to iterative delivery.
  • Plan listening posts early and often in the iterative deployment cycle. Find ways to listen and identify points when learning goals need to be met. You can use an experience management tool to track and monitor registrations or escalations from frontline teams — even call centers — or monitor and analyze social media. Not all insights need to be a direct question and answer to the residents.
  • Encourage insights beyond the product or service to understand broad organizational experiences. You can run retrospective surveys at scale with delivery teams to understand new opportunities — or pulse partners, both government and non-government.

There will never be a perfect model for delivering government services in a natural disaster. However, organizations that lead with experience management have the advantage of becoming more responsive, iterating faster on improvements and building trust through human-focused data-driven decision-making. 

Dr. Sydney Heimbrock is Chief Industry Advisor for Government at Qualtrics, where she uses her global experience transforming governments through investments in workforce development and policy reform to help federal, state and local government organizations design experiences that build public trust.

Phillip Bland leads Public Sector strategy across ANZ at Qualtrics. An experienced XM professional, Phillip is passionate about citizen experience and the way Public Sector can serve its customers and employees.

Photo by Denniz Futalan: https://www.pexels.com

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