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How To Integrate Citizen-Focused Strategies At Your Agency


This post originally on GovLoop’s blog on April 29, 2016. To see the original post, click here.

The government has some amazing programs. From health care to veterans’ programs to education and more, these programs can change people’s lives for the better. However, their success relies on people being able to understand how to access and take advantage of them. This is why digital communications and citizen engagement is so important.

GovDelivery’s 9th Annual Digital Communications Summit focused on this growing need. Its second panel, “Integrating the Citizen Experience,” brought together Natalie Fedie, Vice President of Client Success and Professional Services at GovDelivery, Anthony Calabrese, Senior Advisor and Team Lead for the HealthCare.gov Email Team at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of Communications, and Anahita Reilly, the Deputy Chief Customer Officer at the General Services Administration (GSA). Each speaker offered their perspective on how to integrate the citizen experience into digital communications.

Key Areas for Digital Engagement

Fedie started off the panel with an overview of the value of government programs and how they can help change lives. She offered the example of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs MyVA initiative as a citizen-focused program that helped decrease the backlog of claims applications and increased timely access to medical care. By moving services online, the VA has reduced to response time for disability claims to 125 days or less—a record low.

However, not all agencies are ready to start an initiative like that. Fedie provided six key areas to focus on for successful digital engagement and questions to ask as agencies develop their strategies.

  • People: Do you have enough people working on this project? Do they have the right skills for these tasks?
  • Audience: Do you know whom you want to reach? Are you reaching enough people? Are you reaching the right people? How can you segment your audience to target communications?
  • Solutions: What tools are you using for communications? Are you maximizing your resources?
  • Data: Do you have enough data? How can you collect data? Are you using your data to drive better decision-making?
  • Outcomes: Do you know what your priorities are? Are you aligning your digital outcomes with those priorities?
  • Security: Are your tools secure? Do they meet federal security standards, such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program?

Data-driven Outreach for HealthCare.gov

Calabrese touched on many of these elements in his talk on data-driven outreach for HealthCare.gov. He emphasized the importance of knowing your audience, which is critical to any successful outreach campaign. For example, his team relied on reports by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services to provide them with preliminary information to start an email outreach campaign to eligible uninsured citizens.

By identifying key identifiers of their target demographic, such as age, Calabrese was help to create focused email copy to reach his audience. He tested different messages to determine which led to the highest response rate. For example, people responded more to a statistic that referred to eight out of ten people instead of 84 percent. Mentioning the deadline and increasing the frequency of messages closer to the deadline was also effective for Calabrese’s team.

He was also able to use data to segment his audience by where they were in the application process, which allowed him to personalize messages and help users know what the next steps where. This data helped his team create a tracker graphic that visually let people know where they were in the process. They tested different versions of the graphic to ensure they had the most effective possible version of it.

In addition to emphasizing the importance of data and iterative product testing, Calabrese also recommended measuring the impact of communications in order to have quantifiable support for the success or challenges of a program. His other recommendations included investing in SMS technology, focusing on the engagement funnel and where someone is in a process, providing social proof, and personalizing messages.

GSA and The Ideal “Voice of the Customer”

Reilly continued the focus on the citizen experience with her discussion of the customer voice. She focused on GSA’s work with tenant satisfaction as an example of how digital communications and citizen experience have evolved over time. This project starts with what she called the ideal “voice of the customer,” which has four parts in the cycle: collect, analyze, report, and adapt and evolve.

This means understanding what data you have already and collecting any additional information you need through surveys, focus groups, ethnographic research, or other methods. Once you have the information necessary, you analyze your information across datasets, incorporating different perspectives to create a total understanding. Reilly said an example of this was comparing customer complaints to tenant work orders.

After analysis, you need to create reports on every level of the process and tie performance to this reporting. This will help provide more information for the future as well as provide a way of closing the feedback loop with the customer. Finally, don’t let your data and reports sit on a shelf. Use your findings to adapt and evolve as an agency to grow the customer experience and meet their needs.

In fiscal year 2012, the Tenant Satisfaction Survey was conducted in person, on paper, cost over $1 million, and only reached one-third of government buildings. There was no monitoring, no best practice recognition, and no development of action plans or further analysis. Over the last few years, the survey has transformed to place greater focus on digital engagement and the citizen experience.

In fiscal year 2015, the survey was online and sent by email. The process was much cheaper and reached 100 percent of buildings. In addition, more analysis was done to create new actionable insights based on this data and more. Reilly said that her team found that people were generally 11 percent happier if they knew whom to contact in their building to report issues, regardless of the actual condition of the building. This type of information helped her target resources and programs to help increase customer satisfaction.

Lessons Learned

After a fast-paced series of panels, the speakers sat down to answer audience questions and offer some quick takeaways participants could use immediately at their own agencies.

Calabrese recommended starting small and pitching some new ideas as pilot programs as opposed to full investments. Once you have started a pilot, make sure you can show how it brings added value to the program and bring in new users. More significant buy-in becomes easier with quantifiable proof.

Reilly echoed the focus on pilot programs to test out new ideas. She also emphasized the importance of being an innovator and an integrator, creating new ideas but also bringing people, information, and ideas together. She added that leveraging relationships with other innovators and integrators both inside and out of your agency can help.

Fedie wrapped up the panel by saying that it is important to make sure that you’re actively working to acquire an audience. Once you have you audience, you can implement these tools to focus on citizen experience and improve people’s lives, but without an audience, there’s not much you can do.

For more information on the summit’s events, check out all the speaker recaps here. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve the citizen experience, register for GovDelivery’s follow-up workshop here.