A ‘new way’ of engaging citizens

Digital technology provides a historic opportunity for local government to improve trust and service delivery, says former deputy mayor of New York City.

Engaging with citizens through multiple digital channels could help local governments to improve ratepayers’ user experience (UX) while also promoting public participation and the quality of council services, says Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City.

UX is a term increasingly used to define a person’s overall experience of an organisation’s products or services – from ease of use and efficiency to the overall perception of the organisation.

In the context of government, UX ranges from a ratepayer’s experience using a council website or app right through to their perception of the quality of face-to-face services.

Across the United States, local governments are increasingly experimenting with new ways to enhance the UX for ratepayers by leveraging state-of-the-art technologies.

Stephen Goldsmith

New York City is exploring the use of omnichannel technology to better engage citizens and improve the quality of service delivery. A call centre, which takes almost 40 million inquiries a year, will soon allow residents to communicate via text or through an app.

Engaging citizens through such user-focused technologies is increasingly important as expectations around user experiences change with advances in technology, Mr Goldsmith argued in a recent paper.

Governments are currently “far from” providing the intuitive and simple user experience often expected of modern companies – to the detriment of public trust, he says.

Mr Goldsmith told Government News that government in advanced civil service countries is typically arranged around bureaus and agencies, not the people that it serves.

“Reform often means making a particular agency more efficient, not making it necessarily easier for the user overall. This older, non-UX approach makes government appear less than responsive even when employees are struggling to do their best,” he said.

Putting UX front and centre

Local governments can create a “new way” of operating based on optimising UX to build relationships with ratepayers and enhance service delivery, Mr Goldsmith says.

“Regardless of how the contact originates, digital tools can connect residents and the city in a way that demonstrates that the city is listening and anticipating issues,” his paper argues.

Operating around a UX approach increases the confidence and trust in local government and will assist local officials in identifying and preempting problems before they become serious, he says.

It also enables councils to achieve new efficiencies, Mr Goldsmith argues.

“Today’s digital breakthroughs allow field workers to receive much more information in a manner which supports their decision making. These same tools also allow supervisors to better manage employees.”

It’s essential that governments consider the quality of the UX at every point, Mr Goldsmith says.

“Local governments should consider omnichannel choices for their residents designed with multiple options. Whether they use an app, an online web or walk into a government building, the look and feel and ease of that interaction should be considered.”

Utilising these channels to promote citizen participation in decision making that affects “distribution and quality of city resources,” is also beneficial, Mr Goldsmith says.

“This could mean using tools to ask residents living in under-served communities to text back whether they were satisfied with the courtesy of city employees providing a service, or to grade whether a government-provided job training actually helped a job seeker,” he says.

These actions could broaden input and increase the legitimacy of local government – if agencies act on the information received.

Technology allows cities to explore more creative means of promoting participation, Mr Goldsmith says.

He points to the town of Salem in Massachusetts, which launched a game called What’s the Point allowing locals to submit ideas for neighbourhood improvements, and be rewarded with virtual coins they could pledge to certain community causes.

Watch Mr Goldsmith discuss UX in government: 

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