citizen engagement

Knowing Your Citizens’ Stories Drives Better Engagement

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “6 Customer Experience Success Stories in Government.” Download the full guide here.

Are you tailoring your communications to meet citizens’ needs? It all starts with building a story of who they are and what makes them tick.

A citizen might be a homeowner, a veteran, a commuter — or several of these identities. Each person has unique goals they would like to achieve and therefore is receptive to different types of messaging.

“Knowing what someone wants to accomplish matters when you think about how you’re going to communicate with them,” said Shawn Pillow, Director of Enablement Solutions at Granicus. Using the latest in cloud technologies, Granicus empowers modern, digital governments at all levels to better communicate, more easily manage meetings and agendas, and increase the use of digital services to boost citizen engagement.

During a recent gathering of government communicators, Pillow explained the importance of understanding what citizens need, how agencies can start addressing those needs today and what tools are available to do so.

For government to successfully serve citizens, they must first understand their users’ stories: Who are they? What do they care about? A simple but powerful exercise for answering these types of questions involves using a fill-in-the-blank statement. For example, “as a [persona], I want to [do something] so that I can [realize a reward],” Pillow explained.

Here’s what that statement might look like for a small business owner: As a small business owner, I would like access to affordable capital so that I can grow my business, provide for my family and help my employees do the same. But an international traveler might have completely different objectives. For example, as an international traveler I would like to stay informed about infectious diseases so that I can take precautions to protect myself and others.

The end of this statement, also known as the reward or benefit clause, is the most neglected by agencies, but it’s the most important, Pillow said. He explained that the benefits clause should not be a repeat of your citizens’ needs. Instead, it should be tied to a positive outcome, and it should be measurable. That’s why Pillow advocates for breaking down the citizen experience into sizeable chunks.

From a citizen experience perspective, that means understanding the high-level activities that users will accomplish by using your services, adding stories that support users’ activities, and sequencing work to plan what your team will deliver to users and when.

Pillow noted that understanding the benefit clause stimulates interest and discussion around solving a problem and pushes your agency to think through the details of your services. To illustrate what that looks like, consider this statement: As a parent, I want to know which childcare providers are highly ranked in my neighborhood so I can choose the right one for my child.

For a government organization, this exercise would look slightly different. Here’s one example: As the department charged with ensuring our roads and bridges are compliant, I want to identify the most convenient measures for repairs so I can keep commuters’ travel times low.

As governments work through these scenarios, they must also consider the digital tools that will enable them to adequately respond to citizens’ needs and inform them of changes that impact them. Today, more than 4,000 public-sector agencies use the suite of communication tools and capabilities provided by Granicus.

Pillow shared several features that agencies can access using Granicus solutions, including creating topic lists for email communications, which allows citizens to subscribe for topics that interest them, such as transportation or health care.

There’s also a question feature that allows agencies to collect data from subscribers when they sign up for updates, so that they can be more targeted with their messages. Questions can be used to collect data, such as location, interests and roles of those users, and whether they are a resident, visitor or city official.

The more that governments understand their citizens and regularly engage with them in thoughtful ways, the more likely they’ll stay engaged for longer.

“Having a customer story allows you to start developing a better communication strategy,” Pillow said. “You can understand what citizens need and map out how you will enable them to get to that final stage of the journey and realize that benefit.”

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