Telling a Citizen Story with Digital Services

This post is an interview excerpted from GovLoop’s recent guide, The Future of Digital Services. In the guide, we explore five trends that are transforming the way government serves citizens in the digital age.

The fundamental goal of government digital services is to serve and engage citizens. Yet while many services are designed with this in mind, they often fail to achieve these ambitions in the long-term. Why?

Bill Annibell of Sapient Government Services explained that the main challenge to effective digital engagement isn’t the quality of services created by government. Instead, the issue is that many systems are developed to fulfill singular needs, without deference to related government services or the lifecycle of a citizen.

“The mission focus of each agency often causes a silo effect in the services that they’re offering which contrasts to how people see the government,” Annibell said. “This limits the effectiveness of even the best citizen-centric experience when you have those silos because people see the government—health, immigration, education, etc.—as one entity.”

Agencies must reconsider their approach. To provide a truly engaging experience, agencies must consider the holistic citizen story and then design their services to support that story. This provides an optimizing opportunity through the consideration of all chapters as one experience.

Sapient takes an extended view of the citizen lifecycle. “We call it storyscaping—taking multiple stories and making a holistic experience where stories continue on and on, rather than becoming a scenario of once in and once out,” said Annibell. “That storyscaping is used to transform how government engages with citizens in the same way consumer brands do.”

“Defining one story in one person’s life is one thing, but actually going throughout the lifecycle of an individual and determining how they would interact with government services is an opportunity to truly shape and innovate the way government serves citizens,” said Annibell.

Extending citizen-centric design

Before engaging in design, “There are still questions that have to be asked [about citizens],” said Annibell. “What do they use? What do they need? When do they need it? Where do they find the information?”

However, answering these questions is not enough to truly transform digital services. Agencies must consider how user needs might be best served through a variety of channels, rather than by one agency’s service alone. 

To design a truly integrated service offering, Annibell suggested considering a specific need as part of a larger, multi-dimensional process. For instance, a request for a marriage license is a specific need, but it should be framed as the first step of a longer government engagement. After all, getting married requires a myriad of government services across local, state and federal agencies ranging from legally changing names to securing a new passport and updating tax information.

The request for a marriage license will require a citizen to interact with a single digital service, but if that service maps to other relevant government services, organizations have an opportunity to truly engage the user. “We do this with our clients all the time. We define the entry points and then we consider the integration and the impact points from there,” said Annibell.

This path should be made clear through your digital service. “Whether it’s through a video or an interactive dashboard, tell the user what else you can assist with,” he said. “Show what must happen now. Then, provide additional options associated with the things that might be nice to have, or that you haven’t thought about. Next, provide related things you’re going to be considering in the not-too-distant future. Bringing citizen needs together in an immersive experience is the best way to engage users, extending the impact and reach of the agency and the value to the citizen.”

Anticipating future needs

Creating this network of resources is only the first step toward optimizing digital service, however, because it only addresses one scenario. While it may draw a citizen in for a single process, it may not engage them in the long-term. In order to ensure engagement, services must encourage a user to come back after a specific action is completed.

For instance, let your newlywed know that your agency offers services for first-time parents or provide information about home loans. Then, follow up on your suggestions. “If you’re anticipating their needs ahead of time in a way that becomes part of their live, [citizens] will continue to engage and count on you,” said Annibell.

Many agencies are already looking for ways to reach a greater audience with their digital services. However, if your service doesn’t offer integrated solutions to both current and future citizen issues, the full potential of that service will be missed. By focusing service design on the citizen story, rather than specific scenarios, agencies can ensure users remain engaged in government.


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