January 31, 2022

Realist-Optimism: The Road to Digital Services that Center Peoples' Needs

It’s no secret that in the federal government space, there’s a love/hate relationship with Silicon Valley tech culture and the idea that we can "tech our way" out of all problems.

This relationship is often for good reason — it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that technology can solve all of our complex problems (we learned a lot from you, healthcare.gov). In reality, there is a balance between state-of-the-art agile technology and on-the-ground insight. 

Based on our years of working with small and local governments, here are a few recent encouraging signals that civic technology is taking strides forward to break through bureaucratic barriers. 

Federal Investment in the User Experience of Critical Services

As we continue to apply pressure from the ground up to make government digital services as robust as what’s available in the private sector, we’re encouraged by signals that investments in civic technology at scale are becoming more real every day. Last month, the Biden Administration detailed a plan to "Transform Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government" as part of the President's Management Agenda. Biden’s Executive Order is a real investment in the delivery experience of how millions of Americans access critical services: retirees will be able to claim their benefits online, natural disaster survivors will be able to access streamlined assistance support through virtual inspections and photo uploads, VA.org will transition into a unified platform for health care and benefits, and low-income families can certify their income status through a singular process and a “no wrong door” approach across Federal programs.

This is the first step for a digital transformation of social services at a national scale. As Biden’s plan rolls out, we are aware that there are common pitfalls that need to be avoided: making assumptions about users’ needs, over-outsourcing, and taking on too much too fast lead to unsuccessful projects, especially at a large scale. There is a long road ahead to transform this investment into a reality that supports the daily lives of our most underserved communities. 

Chief Customer Experience Officers in Government

In a country where almost 60 percent of federal users would rather pick up the phone than navigate government websites, we know that going digital is not the barrier — it’s the frustrating delivery of how these services are accessed. To fill that gap, the last decade has brought a gradual shift from the role of Chief Customer Experience Officers (CCXOs) reserved for corporate America, to becoming an essential component of the public sector. In 2010, Brenda Wensil was hired as the first federal-level CCXO with the US Department of Education. Since then, CCXOs are becoming increasingly recognized for providing critical value: understanding user needs and breaking down departmental silos to design and build intuitive, accessible digital experiences.

Here are a few teams that are prioritizing citizen experience that we’re following:

  • The UK’s Design Community has 800+ members leading human-centered design across government departments.
  • The US Office of Personnel Management (OPS) launched a Lab in 2013 that is on a mission to “build the capacity for civil servants and federal programs to leverage the discipline of design to help uncover opportunities to improve programs and services that they are entrusted to deliver.” The OPS Lab has 20+ team members and has trained over 4,000 government leaders.
  • The Salt Lake City Judicial Court has adopted an imperfect yet effective “MVP” for managing a backlog of court cases that were postponed during 2020. Their solutions include using Doodle polls, pop-up tents, and virtual “court counters” on Zoom.
  • The Digital Services Coalition (DSC) is a collective of small and medium-tech companies who are brought together by a shared mission: to make the US government work better for the people that it serves. Founded in 2018, the DSC now has 25+ membership organizations working across company lines to share knowledge, mentorship, and partnership with the common goal of digital transformation.

California is Building State-Wide Tech Infrastructure

Right now, the State of California is looking for a Statewide CIO and Director for the California Department of Technology (CDT) to shape the future of government modernization efforts and the use of transformative technologies. Matthias Jaime, GovOps’ Deputy Secretary of Technology and Agency Information Officer urges, “ we are at a unique moment in time to change how technology supports the business of government.” The CDT is a vibrant department with responsibilities to support statewide infrastructure, build and deliver services, and set statewide technology policies and oversight practices.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to be a part of leading the future of digital transformation at a state-wide level, we highly encourage you to look into this role!

The Path Forward for Digital Services

Here are a few ways we're balancing optimism and reality — we hope this is a supportive outlook for you, too, as we navigate a long road ahead to making digital services as effective as possible for our most vulnerable:

  1. Get clear on your "why": This is what we come back to in the midst of uncertainty. At our core, Exygy is in the business of creating user-centered technology that connects the gap between what people need and the services they deserve. 
  2. Prioritize the needs of marginalized communities: Investments that focus on underserved populations ultimately benefit our collective well-being. We do this by building a foundation of equity, accessibility, and accountability in our products.
  3. Recognize the small things you can control: Making change on a broad scale takes many small, collective, consistent actions. Realistically, we only have so much control over big, historic, oppressive systems. What we can control is our ability to apply pressure from the ground up. We're determined to better understand our lane for creating social impact and to do it justice — with persistence.

How have you seen the government embrace digital services? Where are our biggest opportunities for improvement? Would love to hear your thoughts: marketing@exygy.com.

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