Digitize Your Services: Stage 1 – Inform
This post is part 1 of 5 in a series about digitizing government services.
When people think of interacting with government, they don’t usually imagine a digital experience—much less one that is intuitive and efficient. But governments have been looking since the 1990s to find better ways to be more digitally accessible to their constituents.
In our private lives we shop, bank, book travel, and complete any number of other activities online and on our phones—and we know instinctively when these types of transactions feel good or bad. But for those who work in the public sector, it’s one thing to know where we want to go and another to map out a plan for getting there.
If today we’re asking people to show up and fill out paperwork, but we envision a future in which those who qualify for government services automatically receive them, where do we start?
We think about this all of the time, and created a framework to help others think about the stages toward digitization. The first stage is “inform.”
The first step to go from manual to digital is to bring information online.
Most cities, agencies, and utilities have a website. Some don’t. Some government websites are easy and intuitive to navigate, but most aren’t (and really, this isn’t just a public sector problem). So if you’re evaluating your digital accessibility, start here, and start by asking these questions:
- Is the information that people (residents, businesses, visitors) need available online?
- If so, is it easy to find?
- Does a person need to know which government agency (like the Auditor’s Office) oversees which service (like a mortgage deduction) in order to learn more about that service?
Without investing in new technology, here are a few things you can do to improve your web presence:
- Evaluate what information people are looking for (speak with agency staff and cashiers, look at 311 or other call center data) and make sure that information is online and described in a way that is familiar to the people who need it.
- Less is more. Delete pages that are outdated or infrequently used. When describing a process, make the description as simple and short as possible. If multiple agencies need to provide people with information about one process, house it in one place so that it’s consistent and up-to-date.
- Use plain language. Good writing doesn’t need to sound fancy or formal, and in most cases it shouldn’t. For starters, try to write short sentences with simple vocabulary. to writing government websites by the City of Boston.
- Introduce more ways to find information. Most people won’t search by agency. If it’s an option, they will search by activity (apply for a deduction), topic (managing property in Rosewood County), or identity (I am a homeowner).
We can’t understate the value of accurate, easy-to-find information. It will save residents a lot of headaches, and it will save government staff from handling misdirected requests, or taking a phone call about something a person would have preferred to read online.
Furthermore, being good at the “inform” stage sets governments up to be good at the next stage, “interact.” In this next stage, people can not only learn about government services online, they can also request and receive them.