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The Importance of Transforming Access to Citizen Services

Every government employee has a role in improving citizen services, whether that’s by streamlining processes or ensuring digital forms are easy to understand and complete. To drive these changes, many agencies are harnessing the power of technology, specifically improved digital communications.

Transforming access was among the topics of discussion at the Granicus National Annual Summit 2018 in Washington, D.C. During this particular panel discussion, attendees heard compelling stories from employees across government, including the city of San José Office of the City Clerk, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Philadelphia Water Department.

Anh Tran, Deputy City Clerk for San José, kicked off the conversation by sharing the city’s success in consolidating and streamlining the application process for its boards and commissions. The city partnered with Granicus and went from having 23 different applications for each board and commission to one application for interested members of the community to fill out.

“It was helpful to streamline the process and cut paper space,” Tran said, noting that the project was done on a budget. “We really did less with less,” she said. In the process, San José went from having several file cabinets of papers down to two drawers.

Engaging Citizens Through Social Media

In Philadelphia, Paul Fugazzotto, a public information officer at the city’s Water Department, used social media for transforming access to customer service for citizens.

Fugazzotto provided some background, explaining that the harsh winter months this year caused major issues across the city, including busted pipes and loss of water for customers with frozen pipes. To put the problem into perspective, in January 2017 the city had about 117 water main breaks. By Jan. 15, 2018, the city already had 176 water main breaks.

Frustrated customers called the department to report issues, only to be faced with call wait times over three hours. In response, some took to social media to voice their complaints.

To address the concerns, Fugazzotto said his department put out a press release and began fielding requests via social media. “It may not sound like a big deal for organizations using social media, but for us, we don’t have that [connection] between social media and call ticketing systems,” he said. “It was a leap of faith, but … we needed to provide service.”

Fugazzotto and his colleague worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for three weeks, tag teaming between Twitter and Facebook. Initially, there was some hesitancy that using social media would open the floodgates for negative feedback, but the opposite happened. People appreciated the updates and responsiveness, even if the department couldn’t provide specific details on when issues would be resolved.

Another benefit was that call wait times dropped by 50 percent, which meant faster service for citizens and cost savings for the city. “Social media is a very affordable way to communicate with your customers,” Fugazzotto said.

Creating Digital Communications for a Nationwide Program

Similar customer outreach is happening in the federal government, too. Mika Cross, Director of Strategic Communications, Digital and Public Engagement, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service at the Department of Labor shared how her team is raising awareness for a new nationwide program.

Creation of the HIRE Vets Medallion Program was mandated by law and aimed at shining a light on employers who hire veterans. The program, which launches in 2019, will recognize up to 300 employers for their investments in recruiting, employing and retaining our nation’s veterans.

To get the word out about the program, Cross and her team launched an extensive social media campaign. “We are looking at using the digital email campaign strategies that Granicus provides,” Cross said.

She saw firsthand the benefits that come from having a well-designed, digital newsletter with visually compelling content. The number of subscribers jumped from 12,000 to 70,000 in three months.

Among the three speakers, all agreed that they are feeling increased pressure from citizens to improve services. Even as more services go digital, they said it’s unlikely that paper will be completely gone in the next 10 years. But they are using citizen-centered data to improve services, and that change is coming from various parts of their departments.

“Decisions come from all across government,” Cross said. Her advice: Keep pushing and use data to drive change.