Should You Ignore Citizens In-Person to Engage Others Online?

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This topic contains 24 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Patrick Quinn 10 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #99085

    The Pew Research Center just released its “Government Online” study, and it reveals some fascinating statistics. GovLoop is teaming up with Pew to learn more from you, the government employees who have been engaging citizens online. Over the next four weeks, we’ll ask a series of thought-provoking questions based on the survey results. This week’s question is:

    Should we ignore citizens in-person to engage others online?

    Pew’s survey revealed that 6 out of 10 Americans turned to government websites for information over the past 12 months. One of the main questions that government at all levels is asking in relation to this trend is: “How do we staff our online engagement?” Should agencies shift resources from in-person, customer-facing functions to handle the new wave of Web-based customer engagement?
    Have your say!

    Follow-Up Question:

  • #99133

    Patrick Quinn

    I’m wary of either-or constructs that imply only outlier outcomes are possible. Government shouldn’t ignore anyone who attempts engagement and respects the rules, whether in-person, over the phone, by mail, online, carrier pigeon, semaphore, whatever.

    Should government devote more resources to online engagement? Yes. But an agency that concludes that every dollar spent on online engagement must be a dollar deleted from in-person engagement is in for a very, very long decade, and one that probably won’t end well.

  • #99131

    Absolutly not, while we may be able to reach more people online niot everyone is connected to the web. The digital devide must be closed first. Additionally, there are many Americans who do not speak English that our websites may not help. (Although the Census does a fantastic job of making thier site in multiple tounges

  • #99129

    Steve Radick has written a nice post (Government Social Media Use – “In Addition To”, Not “In Lieu of”) that’s relevant here.

    Excerpt: “…it’s about more than just identifying non-digital means to reach out those without broadband access – it’s about providing a variety of means, both online and off, for everyone…Government use of social media should be integrated with the communications and public affairs departments. Very few internet users rely solely on government social media sites – in fact, those who use government social media sites are more likely to also use other means, both online and off, to communicate with their government as well.”

  • #99127

    Peter Sperry

    The private sector has already started doing this. Airlines charge higher fees if you book on the phone or in person rather than online. Banks have added fees for live teller service. Almost all customer service functions for the private sector have migrated either on line or to recorded telephone support.

    Governments at all levels face severe spending limitations over the next several decades and machines are less expensive than people. Yes the level of service declines, which shows up in customer satisfaction surveys, but so does the cost. Given a choice between paying the taxes to support a fully staffed DMV vs renewing licenses and registrations online, most voters choose the online option.

  • #99125

    Stephen Peteritas

    I’m right there with Patrick. You can’t or at least shouldn’t ignore any type of engagement. While it’s easy to say that government should just throw more resources at engagement especially the online aspect, it can’t and probably won’t happen if it means more $.

    What organizations should do is cross train employees to do all platforms of engagement. It’s not like the web is that hard and ignore the fact that it’s where interaction is trending will only become more problematic as the number of Americans turning to gov websites grows.

    On a broader note cross training and employees becoming a “jack of all trades” just makes a business more effective in the long run anyways.

  • #99123

    Aaron Smith

    Andy told me this topic would get everyone’s juices flowing, and he wasn’t kidding! I think Patrick, Peter and Stephen are right on the money here. One big finding from this research was that people expect government to be available when and where they want them to be–that means online, offline, traditional websites, social media, you name it. One the one hand that’s a great opportunity, since we are seeing a ton of interest in what government agencies and officials are doing. On the other, it’s a huge challenge in terms of staffing and prioritizing resources.

  • #99121

    Aaron Smith

    Chris–you’re right on that access issues are still relevant today. Mobile is helping to eliminate some of those gaps but many are still not online in any meaningful way, and that’s a huge challenge for public agencies.

  • #99119

    Good point, Peter. It is less expensive to automate processes over people.

    But I am actually not talking about replacing people with machines. I am talking about shifting limited human resources from the physical to the virtual. Right now, agencies have a hard time justifying the use of full-time employees for the express purpose of online engagement. The best that most government agencies can do is assign a portion of a person’s time to online engagement, but that may not be meeting an agencies engagement needs with a group of citizens that prefer to access and interact with government on the Web.

    To build on your private sector example, I’d like to see more agencies have a web-based chat feature similar to my direct access to customer service representatives at Bank of America or a CDC Cares on Twitter similar to @ComcastCares. Make sense?

  • #99117

    Joe Sanchez

    I’m surprised to see a question titled “Should we ignore citizens in-person to engage others online?” The answer should be “Absolutely not.” There are no “shades of grey” here.

    As noted author Jim Collins (“Good to Great,” “Built to Last”) wrote: “Embrace ‘the genius of the and.'”

  • #99115

    Hi Joe – I phrased it this way because I fear/assume that some agencies may need to approach the issue in this manner. If a Federal agency or a city has a small budget, do they need to make tough choices like this to re-allocate resources to where people are accessing information and services? I’d hope and advocate for “both-and”, but wonder if sometimes it is, in fact, “either-or”.

  • #99113

    Gary Berg-Cross

    One might phrase a response to the question with a question of , “how do we migrate to a government that is not chosing to ignore citizens in-person while engaging others online?”

    I certainy takes resources we will need some experience with and a model of what is the most effective tradeoff between in-person and online interactions. Generally we will look for online opportunities that open up, that people want or at least understand, and which can be done with no increase in and hopefully a decraase in scarce government resources.

  • #99111

    Peter Sperry

    “people expect government to be available when and where they want them to be”

    But are they willing to pay for that access? Sooner or later effective customer service and citizen engagement requires subjective judgement skills that cannot be automated whether by traditional IT approaches or new media. You need to have real live humans in the feedback loop and they expect to collect a salary for their services. At a certain point, public officials have to ask whether it is a worthwhile expenditure of tax reveunes to conduct yet another townhall, listening session, webcast, blog, tweet stream or whatever to solicit feedback from what is usually a very small number of unrepresentative activists. If all they are doing is soliciting comments for the record, it is a waste of time and money. But if they are actually employing public employees to analyse and respond to the input, costs can go off the charts. How much do we want to spend communicating with a very small fraction of constituents?

  • #99109

    Perhaps if we make the web more freindly it would lessen the pressure on street level offices. Does anyone had any experiance with putting videos online? One of the challenges we face is that it’s much easier for us to have people apply online, but the process can be intimidating for some who don’t normally conduct buisness online. Would a video help bridge the gap at all? (seeing a person talking them through it in a format they are used to it)

    (if this is off topic let me know and I’ll start a seperate discussion.)

  • #99107

    Amanda Blount

    I was going to leave an answer, but after I read your post, I realized I would just be restating something that is important; Don’t get rid of one for the other. Use the internet as an additional tool, not a substitute for interaction with the public. 🙂

  • #99105

    Sheryl Grant

    I’m intrigued by the hybrid approach that we see in airports and supermarkets, having information kiosks or do-it-yourself check-ins that exist in physical spaces. Anyone know if there is anything similar in government? I was thinking about this finding: “Half of government website visitors said that they accomplished everything they set out to do in their last government website interaction…” That seems low.

    I didn’t read to see if the survey respondents indicated why they failed to accomplish what they were setting out to do, although I wonder if it has to do with the way people search for government information vs. the way gov websites (and agencies, etc.) organize their information online.

  • #99103

    Carol Davison

    I feel responsbile for serving the person who dressed themselves and drove to my office before serving someone on line who may have just rolled out of bed. I normally spend half the day “doing my work” and the other half serving walk in and on line customers. This makes me more efficient because I can batch many on line responses

  • #99101

    Carol Davison

    Economic theory says that when you have a village of specialists everyone lives at a higher level. Its best to have one fisherman, one farmer, one doctor, etc. I know that I hire a dentist to fill my teeth, and a podiatrist to mend my broken foot, and don’t just sit upside in the dentist’s chair. Its normally more effective and efficient to hire a divorce attorney for $400 an hour than a generalist lawyer for 5 hours at $80.

  • #99099

    C Porche

    Having just finished the frustrating annoying task of dialoguing with the State of Virginia which placed a lien on my bank account for unpaid state taxes two years ago. I have not lived in Virginia for 10 years. Consequently the urgent communique dated in January 2010 -reached my domicile on april 10- 30 days beyond the due date of any action. The utter frustration of having issues that do not meet the box formula for the fellows on the other end of the chat line has been supremely disorienting. There are some circumstances where a person and their identified responsibilities are more efficient. As we discuss customer service and crazy in one breathe- participating in online in a chat- uncovering information as an “agent ” is typing a way at multiple clients- the opportunity to generate ill will with the lack of precision and focus is high. Each of the three conversations had agents off target. The heart burn was high. Sometimes its great when you know you have a simple question can you fix this? fabulous but for the special cases when things and the consequences of error are sensitive-the consistency of one to one ( who is equipped to understand and make the decision) is superior. On another front folks are so eager with the chatting that their awkward positions are clearly documented.

    By the time most of it was concluded I fired of emails to the public liason and a couple of higher ups because I felt out of the loop. The “Do you want my help or what” in a chat conversation goes really far in creating warm and fuzzies.

  • #99097

    Meagan L. Prior

    I agree that we cannot cannot completely eshew “live” support format for online media . As strange as it may seem to me, as someone who has has a computer in her life since kindergarten, there are still taxpaying Americans who do use the internet as a tool in their lives and they deserve access!

    But, in terms of resource planning, I definitely think there needs to be resource alignment appropriate to the volume of users in each format.

  • #99095

    Kim Salkeld

    I fully agree with you. From our polling of citizen’s preferences and monitoring of patterns of service use (in Hong Kong) we see clear demand for maintaining a diverse range of ways of accessing information and services from government agencies. We are also seeing increased usage of all channels. Ensuring consistent, clear, helpful and equitable responses whether contact is made by phone, mail, over the counter or by web based or e-mail channel is essential. Improving the clarity of information and efficiency of service provision is the key area for management.

  • #99093

    Sheryl Grant

    I’m curious how many services have actually become online only — how common is it? In my state, I have only seen small gestures to make online a better deal (ie. DMV registration renewals where it’s an extra dollar to send a check vs. no extra cost for paying online). But you can still go in person if that is preferred.

    Does anyone know if there are actual brick-and-mortar agencies (state, local) that have shuttered up to provide online only service?

    I hope that managers or directors would look at other ways to become more efficient and save costs, instead of thinking the cost-cutting comes from just either/or offline/online citizen engagement.

  • #99091

    Christina Morrison

    Online engagements and access to government does help provide better service to citizens, but only to citizens who have online access. It’s hard to believe that there are still many Americans without PCs and broadband access. I know a shocking statement to so many people like us who could not thrive without our PC. The thought of using dial up give me a crink in my neak. For government to be able to serve all there need to be a balance of both in person and online.

    But as a good rule of thumb it is always rude to ignore the person in front of you to response to the online person. Think about how much you like it where you are with a friend and the enitre visit your friend is sending text messages or responding to email. Be in the moment.

  • #99089

    Beth Beck

    Why choose? Meet the need is, wherever the need exists.

    We, in the government, are public servants and charged with serving needs of the taxpayer. What a concept, right? If we provide stellar info online, our taxpayer (who has access to a computer or wifi phone) can save time and money by finding info online. We’re generally not known for being good at meeting the needs of the public online or in person — otherwise Saturday Night Live wouldn’t have so much fun at our expense. (I have my own horror stories about DC traffic court arguing a ticket for parking in a no parking zone, yet my car was parked at a meter with time still left on the meter.) The lesson I learned was to pay the ticket whether I deserved it or not — OR spend 8 hours in traffic court only to get a ruling that I have to pay the ticket anyway. Grrrrr.

    The biggest key is engaging the public (in a POSitive way) — through every means possible. Share information. Welcome questions. In person. By phone. On the web.

    SERVE them. It’s our job. 🙂

  • #99087

    Heather Heater

    I agree with Christopher. One of my main concerns with the trend of gov2.0, open government, etc. is that communities that have been historically underrepresented in government (or systematically ignored) are also those who are less likely to have access to broadband at home, to go online, or to have access to a smart phone or other internet enabled cell phone.

    I also agree with Christopher on his second point, that most government websites (including my local city and county government) are only available in English. Those that do offer a second language option usually provide Spanish-language only. While it’s true that the population of Spanish-speaking Latinos in the U.S. is growing, there are many Latinos that don’t speak Spanish as their native language (and may not even identify as Latino, but indigenous). But what about Asian-Pacific, First Nation, and African communities?

    I’m certainly an early adopter and I believe in the power of these technologies to promote democratic participation in urban and public health planning, policy, and shared accountability for health and equity. However, we do not currently have the IT infrastructure to make that participation equitable. Thus, before we put all our eggs in one basket, we need to drastically improve how government currently engages undeserved communities and build upon those successes to address the issue of IT access as one of health and social equity.


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