State and local government agencies are capturing residents’ attention and engaging them to effectively navigate and use new digital payment platforms as government slogs toward modernization.
In a symposium held Wednesday by PayIt, a contractor that offers local governments a digital platform to accept online payments, elected officials discussed the adoption of digital services for state and local governments along with real-world success stories for both governments and residents.
Agencies should first consider delivering the best possible customer experience to its citizens.
“What are the missions we are trying to accomplish? It’s important to understand who the residents are and what they are trying to accomplish,” said Julia Gutiérrez, Boston’s chief digital officer. “Whether looking for apartments, schools, or parking, taking a holistic look at what the residents are trying to accomplish.”
Jack Laskowitz, PayIt’s vice president of client success, says the company first asks itself to identify the mission of an agency in helping constituents, whether it is compliance, service or use of a program. The digital journey will follow.
“A shortfall could be when folks are motivated to digitize instead of modernize, and those aren’t the same things,” warned Laskowitz.
Gutiérrez said PayIt’s new systems helped Boston’s government include more of its residents, especially those who speak languages other than English. Designing and delivering the right experiences can be simple, frictionless and inclusive.
State and municipal governments are taking steps to level the playing field and create equitable conditions for all residents by understanding constituents and revising systems.
“We have a digital equity team within the city of Boston that is hard at work – going out knocking on doors and talking with residents who are eligible for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program,” Gutiérrez said.
Since 2017, Boston has offered the Digital Equity Fund, a grant program to help Boston-based community organizations get the money they need to enhance and expand digital equity work.
State and local governments can incorporate user-centered design in the development process by first knowing the mission of the agency.
“Developing personas is an important step to better humanize the work and efforts of building your platform to engage your citizens. By taking advantage of residents visiting the office, agencies can ask questions and learn about their concerns to better understand their perspectives,” Laskowitz said.
“One strategy we like to use,” Gutiérrez said, “is shifting the conversations from spelling out business requirements into describing the user stories.”
Boston has recognized the need to understand its communities by launching a user experience toolkit. It enhances their mission to make services easy to navigate and accessible to all.
Collaborating across levels of the government is providing for a smooth adoption, implementation, and rollout of services for agencies and their constituents.
“It takes a village. We are not single-handedly solving every single interaction,” Gutiérrez said. “It’s very rare that there is a government service where only one team fully runs that. Most of the time, the services are related to one another.”
For example, starting a business involves state and federal level requirements, processes that are becoming streamlined now.
“Our residents shouldn’t have to understand the bureaucracy in order to get things done,” added Gutiérrez.
Creating frictionless experiences involves more collaboration among different departments.
“We are here because we really care about the mission of delivering services for our residents. It’s easy to find a like-minded person in another department who is interested in co-creating smooth experiences for our residents,” said Gutiérrez.
And, building the technology for an agency doesn’t have to be a cumbersome sticking point.
“Our business is government. We are not looking to become the next private sector technology company. We are here to deliver these services and efficiently use our taxpayers’ monies to build digital services ourselves, or leverage our private sector vendor partners that have [software as a service] solutions that actually meet our needs at a more cost effective price point.”
Agencies trying to convince citizens to use digital services are turning to new marketing techniques.
“It is not a linear journey, driving awareness (to residents), and assessing, evaluating, and then taking action. We are in a success-based model,” said Laskowitz. “Drive them down the digital path to help them complete the task.”
Government officials can make sure the process is simple, elegant, and dignified.
“We can look first at intended audiences,” said Kathryn Michener, director of user experience for the New Hampshire Department of Information Technology. “Empathy is the most important tool in the toolbox.”
In addition, platforms need to address audiences beyond just residents.
“Does content relate to refugees or immigrants? Are you planning public events involving international audiences?” Michener asked, describing considerations agencies should assess.
“Buy-in is still important, and as we build products, we need to know maintenance operations plans,” said Max Gigle, a program manager in Connecticut’s Department of Administrative Services. “So how can we iterate and improve over time? Project buy-in is one thing, but ownership of the redesigned service is another.”
— Laura Plaia is a freelance editor and writer based in Alexandria, Va.