Government agencies provide vital information and services that affect people’s daily lives. They have the responsibilities of responding to the needs of its citizens, running as effectively and efficiently as possible, and being timely and accurate with its information. By putting people first and embracing a user-centric approach, agencies improve the quality of their information and services by making them more useful and usable and by saving money long-term through making iterative improvements.
Benefits of Changing Government Culture
Users of government systems include both citizens seeking information and services as well as employees trying to conduct their jobs. Creating a user-centered culture means that government agencies hold themselves to a higher standard by making sure that users can access, understand, and use the information provided. It also means that users can accomplish their tasks, give input, and know that their feedback is taken into consideration and acted upon.
By embracing the user experience (UX) best practices and the user-centered design process, agencies save money long-term and increase their credibility by being more transparent. Through a user-centric approach, agencies among other things can:
- Identify and respond to user needs through conducting user research while still meeting organizational goals.
- Produce information that is easily understood and acted upon.
- Create systems that better facilitate transactions, internally and externally.
- Deliver information so that it can be accessed anywhere and through various channels and technologies.
- Encourage participation by making it easy to connect with people.
- Increase productivity and efficiency with usable systems.
- Improve based upon feedback and analysis of other performance measurements.
People Taking Advantage of E-Gov
In 2010, PEW’s Government Online report found that 61% of adults looked for information or made transactions on a government website in the last year. PEW also found that 31% employed social media, including social networking sites, blogs, text messaging, e-mail and video to find government information. They noted that this was particularly important because it meant that “people are not only getting involved with government in new and interesting ways, they are also using these tools to share their views with others and contribute to the broader debate around government policies.”
Challenges Unique to Government Agencies
Creating a user-centered environment is important in creating transparency, improving delivery of content, and saving money. In order to change culture, it’s important to acknowledge and work with some unique challenges that agencies must take into consideration, including:
- Government sites need to serve large audiences.
- Sometimes UX is an afterthought in building a development team or contracting out services.
- Politics and current events can impact priorities and funding.
It’s also important to understand the scope of government websites. The impact on people’s daily lives makes providing information and services that are usable and useful highly important.
Policies that Help Agencies Embrace UX
Despite the benefits noted above, PEW’s 2010 report on The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future found that many technology experts are concerned about whether government agencies will resist change. Some policies that help agencies embrace UX principles and best practices to improve site performance include but are not limited to the:
- Digital Government Strategy: requires federal agencies to harness technology to dramatically improve service to the American people.
- OMB Policies for Federal Public Websites: helps agencies comply with federal information resource management law and policy, and promote citizen–centered government.
- E-Government Act of 2003, Section 207: Accessibility, Usability, and Preservation of Government Information: requires the efficient, effective, and appropriately consistent use of Federal agency public websites to promote a more citizen centered government.
- The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner.
- Accessibility (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act - 29 U.S.C. 794d) requires all Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.
There are also a number of government-specific resources and guidance to implement best practices.
- Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants by Elizabeth Buie and Dianne Murray (2012)