Using the Digital Analytics Program in Federal Government

Government is creating and storing data at unimaginable rates. And within that data, there’s a wealth of information to glean. What citizens want, where operational waste exists, what type of fraud is being executed, and how services are being used are just a few of the insights hidden in this wealth of data. Yet many government departments aren’t finding these answers. Why?

Timothy Lowden, Program Manager for the Digital Analytics Program at GSA, explained that it’s not for a lack of enthusiasm on the part of public servants. “We find a lot a people that get excited about having all this data at their fingertips, but they’re not sure what to do with it,” he said in a recent interview with GovLoop.

That’s why GSA started the Digital Analytics Program (DAP), a hosted shared service provided by the Technology Transformation Service. It was created out of the belief that “every agency should have a metrics strategy to measure performance, customer satisfaction, and engagement, and use the data to make continuous improvements to serve its customers.”

To meet that objective, DAP provides comprehensive, easy-to-use analytics for every section of federal government’s online presence.

The Program

Established as part of President Obama’s Digital Government Strategy in 2012, the purpose of DAP is twofold. First, it provides a common web analytics tool that can be used across many different websites in government. That avoids duplication of agencies purchasing the same tool and going through separate procurements.

The program gives any participating agency access to a wealth of website data including user traffic, clicks, completed actions, website performance, that is collected in real time. Historical data is also compiled for easy reference. That website-specific and cross-departmental comparative data foster decision-making related to user experience, design, resourcing, and content at the site level.

Second, DAP allows government leaders “to get a bird’s-eye view of public interaction with the federal web space at-large.” That overview helps answer questions about what types of devices people use, as well as what content they seek from those access points. “The answers to those questions can prove to be very useful as we try to improve digital services for the entire government,” Lowden said.

Training and Support

To help both frontline employees and agency leaders understand how to make the most of this data, DAP also offers a robust set of training opportunities, including a 3-hour DAP 101 course, a follow-up DAP 201 course and topical 1-hour webinars on subjects like custom reports, campaign URLs, and user behavior measurement. All of those trainings are also recorded on DigitalGov’s YouTube Analytics playlist, so remote users can take advantage.

Additionally, DAP provides support for users that have less technical challenges to getting data programs off the ground.

“The number one thing that DAP users need to succeed is familiarity and buy-in from their leadership,” Lowden said. “When a leader sees the value in making an experience better for the user, and empowers her or his staff to use the data to make improvements, we see incredible results.”

In many cases, Lowden says he sees frontline employees sending valuable data to their managers only to never hear back on actionable next steps. That’s often because leaders don’t understand the value in the information they’re receiving. “So part of DAP is not just training people to use data, but also encouraging them to manage up,” Lowden said. “You have to explain how data is important and how it can be used to make a better experience for users.”

DAP in Action

DAP is already spurring change in the federal space. Lowden’s favorite example comes from the Federal Trade Commission, where one team is using site search data to improve their homepage . Using DAP data, the web team was able to determine that users were referencing the FTC webpage to fulfill mission-related tasks. However, those tasks weren’t highlighted on the main page, making it difficult for users to locate necessary resources.

The team redesigned the homepage to highlight what DAP information showed to be the most sought-after tasks. As a result, traffic from the homepage to the tasks in the Take Action area jumped dramatically — 47% for Complaint Assistant, 54% for Do Not Call, 9,691% for ID theft.

DAP Across Government

FTC isn’t the only success story from DAP’s first few years in action. Teams at USAJOBS, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and USA.gov have also used analytics from the program to inform various operational and outreach strategies.

What’s more, other agencies are starting to learn from these early wins. While agencies shouldn’t use DAP data to publicize results of other departments, leaders should reference other agency data to provide perspective on their own results.

“Within government, we encourage all users to collaborate with other agencies to use the data for benchmarking, removal of repetitive content, and sharing of best practices,” Lowden explained. “Many of the HHS sites across various operating divisions share common goals, for example. And the State Department works closely with Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with regard to visas and immigration, so there is opportunity there to correlate data.”

The Future

Using the services and data available through DAP, Lowden’s team at GSA hopes to encourage users across all levels of government to start leveraging analytics for better decision-making. He also hopes that the momentum of DAP will encourage users to do even more. 

“Web analytics data is just one piece of the overall puzzle when it comes to understanding your users and providing the best experiences,” Lowden said. “I also recommend using heat-mapping tools, feedback tools, A/B testing, and usability testing, among others. Our hope is that web analytics data via DAP can be a gateway into using more data.”

Ultimately, DAP is just one tool to get public servants more engaged in data initiatives and decision-making processes. To get involved, check out the resources below or reach out to [email protected] for help.

Resources for DAP

The Digital Analytics Program creates and supports a number of resources and tools to help government users make the most of their data. Check them out:

analytics.usa.gov – A public dashboard that offers high level DAP data

DAP Implementation Guide – A guide to using DAP data and processes

DAP on GitHub – A repository that provides a JavaScript file for US federal agencies to link or embed in their websites to participate in the Digital Analytics Program.

GSA’s Analytics Playlist – A YouTube playlist of analytics training and instructional videos for DAP users

This article is one interview from our upcoming guide, Putting Data Analytics at the Forefront of Your Agency. To preregister for the guide, click here.

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