A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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Our recent post on the websites three deadly sins to avoid for government websites looking to engage stakeholders and gain web traffic discussed why the majority of websites fail to attract their target audience. While many websites may struggle to meet customer expectations, especially in the public sector, there are many shining examples of government websites leading the way in better online experiences for both government agencies and the public.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which performs annual surveys and reports on Americans’ overall level of satisfaction in a variety of industries, reported an optimistic outlook on receptiveness to services provided by the U.S. government in a 2012 report. Customer satisfaction with these services rose nearly 5% over 2 years, which ACSI credited to customer service improvements driven by higher quality websites paired with a larger proportion of citizens interacting with government through those websites:

“The significant improvement in the federal government benchmark over the last two years is due to two interrelated factors. First, while citizens are reporting generally better experiences across the board regarding ease and efficiency of processes, customer service, and information delivery, the satisfaction driver showing the largest gain is user perceptions of the quality of government websites. Second, not only are citizens rating website quality higher, but a growing proportion of citizens are interacting with the government via this channel.”

ACSI regularly benchmarks websites, but only at the federal level. However, throughout the state and local government levels, there is a vibrant public sector technology and digital communication community that offers best practices for any government organization. We took a few minutes to highlight one website from different levels of local, federal, and international government.

Federal: United States Mint @ USMint.gov

The ACSI benchmarks use customer surveys to determine their quarterly rankings. Although government services typically score below private sector services, several federal agencies consistently show levels of user satisfaction similar to high-performing private sector companies.

The United States Mint is one example of a federal website that generates ACSI scores that meet and, in some cases, exceed the scores of private sector customer satisfaction leaders. Considering that private sector enterprises typically dedicate more resources to focusing on customers than the typical government agency, the Mint’s high scores are even more impressive. USmint.gov resources cover the gamut from a collector shopping resource and customer service center to news updates and social media links, all collected in a visually attractive and well-organized design. The website meets many different needs on a single central website that attracts a wide and varied audience but also caters to specific interests within that audience with a clear navigation system and resources to help new visitors learn more. Personalized email subscription options provide a way for any of these stakeholder groups to get proactive updates so they are notified when there’s new information.

The extensive content peppered with beautiful pictures of U.S. currency is navigable via a robust search function, FAQs, glossary, and site map, as well as a 1-800 number in case a visitor is really stuck. Frequent shoppers on the online catalog can register on the site with user information. Furthermore, clearly labeled navigation tabs provide shopping and product schedule information for dedicated collectors as well as coin collecting and coin minting information for school groups or new collectors.

mint

The secret to the success of USMint.gov lies in the thoughtfully designed and implemented website, with a focus on a variety of stakeholder interests. When government websites are developed with a clear understanding of its audiences and what they want, communicators are able to focus on delivering the content stakeholders want and value in more effective and efficient ways.

City: Louisville, Kentucky @ louisvilleky.gov

Online portals for state, county, and city government have achieved new heights in leveraging information technology and web best practices to meet the needs of the public.

Louisville, Kentucky is one example of a city-run website that has not only achieved excellence in content, accessibility and smart design, but has also maintained consistently high quality in its web offerings over the past several years. louisvilleky.gov has been awarded several Best of the Web (BOW) awards and won 1st place in the City Portal category in 2012. The website succeeds at keying in on citizen feedback to deliver services and information that matter, organizing information in an accessible and easy-to-update manner, and providing services that are innovative and fun to use.

The Louisville website offers quick links for service requests, live chats, and web apps for locating popular city services. Subscription services offer updates on over 400 city topics to nearly 100,000 subscribers. Web forms, an active social media center and even a 311 app provide channels for Louisville leadership to interact with citizens and discuss timely topics in real-time.

A relentless focus on providing service to the public through thoughtful, frequent updates has worked – search engines show that louisvilleky.gov is the #1 online resource in the city. A quick visit to louisvilleky.gov opens the door to information ranging from job listings to garbage pickup presented via rich content and interactive features, making it easy to see why this website is a perennial favorite in the city category.

Overseas: GOV.UK

Governments in other nations work to overcome the same challenges as government organizations and agencies in the United States. An increasingly web-savvy population, increasing expectations and needs, and difficulties in combining interesting, up-to-date content with functional design are common opportunities for improvement for all web portals.

GOV.UK is a comprehensive web portal that strives to offer all British Central Government content in a one-stop website. The portal seeks to provide a predictable and complete resource for anything citizens might demand from the government through a central list of links for the entire UK government. Historically, thousands of disjointed websites made up a labyrinth that citizens had to navigate to find the information they needed. The streamlined design, launched in 2012, consolidated multiple resources into a central site.

govuk

The re-design effort was headed up by the UK’s Government Digital Service,  which was formed within the Cabinet Office to transform government digital services. The Government Digital Service website states their purpose is to “offer world-class digital products that meet people’s needs.” Ben Terrett, who led the Government Digital Service’s re-design of Gov.UK as head of design, explained how the website design met the department’s purpose:

“Most people visit a .gov site once or twice a year—if that. So designing a dynamic, fresh interface is irrelevant—rather, the idea was to make the user experience as simple and static as possible.”

The accessible and function-first qualities of the website attracted attention by online design communities, and was named 2013 Best Design of the Year by the London Design Museum. The website beat out not just websites, but buildings, inventions, and cars for the award and is the first website to earn the honor. Other government websites looking for ways to improve their approach to serving the public through functional design based on user requirements can learn from the award-winning web design principles of GOV.UK.

More Tips to Learn from the Best

For even more ideas on transforming public sector online communications, check out the guide on HowTo.gov on the Top 10 Best Practices for Government Websites. This list expands on the key objectives of the best-in-class examples discussed above: Focus on the intent of a government-hosted website and how that translates to citizen requirements, base innovative and rich content on those key interests and needs, build in methods for users to provide feedback, make services interactive and easy-to-use, and never stop innovating!

The results of a national survey recently released by the Pew Research Center reveals that favorable approval ratings for state and local government continued this year while opinions of the federal government hit a new low. The survey conducted this cell peopleMarch with 1,501 adults from all 50 states resulted in positive ratings across party lines for state and local governments overall, but the lowest percentage ever of favorable opinions for the federal government. Just 28% rated the federal government favorably, down five points from last year’s survey, while 63% had a favorable opinion of local government and 57% looked well on their state government.

The survey provides detailed breakdowns on approval ratings across levels of government, including how a decrease in approval from both Democratic and Republican citizens has hurt public opinion of the federal government. Other ratings centered around the state and local level, where partisan makeup of state government matters but governments get similarly positive ratings across party lines for politically divided state governments. How can government agencies and organizations respond to new information and sometimes-critical public opinion?

Improving public opinion and customer service to citizens at all levels hinges on improving communication and collaboration both within party lines and across them, and within government and externally with the public. The federal government can answer negative feedback by placing a renewed focus on citizen customer service, responsiveness and collaboration. For government organizations at all levels, improving visibility to citizen needs and leveraging new tools and technologies to respond to those opportunities can assist in getting a handle on citizen perception and delivering real-time solutions in today’s world.

While the Pew research sheds light on citizen opinions, a recent GovDelivery survey identifies trends within government including collaboration, customer service, mobile government, big data and cybersecurity at the local, state and federal levels. Over 400 individuals in U.S. state and local government organizations and over 200 individuals in U.S. federal agencies and departments were surveyed, and the results are enlightening for any government organization looking to enhance their work with the public. The top trends that will impact government organizations at every level include mobile government, customer service and collaboration:

Mobile Government and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD)

For government organizations, mobile access to government information and services has become more important than ever on both internal and external fronts. Internal access to applications and data through employee’s own devices can improve responsiveness to citizen needs and reduce costs to provide devices to government employees. External information distribution through mobile technologies and applications is on the rise, too.

A survey by Foresee in 2012 reported that one-third of citizens accessing federal government website are logging in from phones or tablets, and utilizing mobile technology can be critical for communicating time-sensitive messages and alerts. While more than half of GovDelivery’s survey respondents listed mobile/BYOD as a top trend, only 39 percent at the federal level said their agencies were currently addressing the issue. Especially in light of a new mandate from the Digital Government Strategy for federal agencies to enable mobile access to priority customer-facing services, federal government needs to find new ways to engage with both citizens and internal employees to maximize collaboration and improve customer satisfaction.

At the state and local level, organizations face similar challenges in implementing internal mobile access through platforms like BYOD and cloud computing and sharing information with mobile-enabled external channels like SMS and mobile apps. Mobile technologies are being embraced by government employees and citizens at a fast pace, creating opportunities for communication and generating new requirements for processes and policies just as quickly. Getting a handle on mobile and personal devices is becoming a requirement for all types of government organizations that prioritize customer service and collaboration.

Renewed Focus on Citizen Customer Service

As citizens’ perspectives shift on the federal government, the federal organizations have felt the pressure to prioritize quality citizen customer service. Focus around customer service has led to the Digital Government Strategy mandate around improving customer service through digital technologies; however, only half of the surveyed federal government workers reported using social media to communicate with the public. Meanwhile, over 60% county and state employees and almost 80% of city employees are using social media to share information. The federal government can capitalize on this untapped opportunity by turning to social media, SMS, email and apps to deliver integrated communications and customer service in the coming year.

State and local agencies working with lean budgets and close relationships with constituents and taxpayers need to put communication with customers first. Prioritizing customer service through digital channels like social media, email and text messaging facilitates broad communication with citizens and helps these organizations zero in on “low hanging fruit” to improve service levels. All types of government organizations benefit from improvements in collaboration when determining how to best deliver customer service.

Heightened Levels of Collaboration Fueled by Tools and Technology

New digital tools and technologies; increased demand for productivity and efficiency improvements from government organizations; and a new generation of individuals entering the workforce have converged to enable new levels of collaboration in government. Federal government agencies are now driving collaboration both internally with other agencies and externally with citizens through new tools, policies and processes.

Collaboration for local government employees can involve working between local, state and federal organizations to implement programs and drive critical priorities like public safety and public health. While most individuals at the state or local level feel that collaboration is being addressed by their organizations already, there is still room for improvement in utilizing new technologies like social media and other digital channels.

Inter-agency collaboration is expanding to include internal communications, working behind-the-scenes with other agencies and combined efforts on communication with the public. External collaboration is now taking place on social media channels, interactive communities and public forums. To take advantage of many of these new technologies, government organizations need to identify and implement new technologies while establishing policies and processes to manage communication and interactions with the public. These efforts will ultimately enhance and enable broad collaboration with stakeholders in the digital age and help increase customer satisfaction.

The good news for government organizations at every level is that information about citizen concerns and industry trends is more available than ever. The most recent news on public opinion and trends affecting government work reveal that these issues are all tightly related. Implementing mobile solutions for government; focusing technology and social media implementations around customer service; and improving internal, inter-agency, and public collaboration are all part of the solution for government organizations working on initiatives to better serve the public.

To view the complete list of survey categories and rankings and to learn more how the public sector can act on the top trends in government, download GovDelivery’s white papers below:

Top 2013 Trends for Federal Agencies

2013 Trends for State and Local Government

More collaboration, better customer service, and expanded use of mobile devices and applications are top trends for federal government agencies in 2013. The trends are intertwined. Mobile devices/apps make information available 24/7 and increase interaction between customers and agencies and between agencies. The result is more collaboration and better customer service.

About 200 individuals in U.S. federal agencies identified the top 2013 trends in a GovDelivery survey. They identified the top trends from a list of hot topics, such as big data/open data, cybersecurity, budgets, technology and cloud computing.

Respondents were asked to look at the trends through three filters:

  • Trends taking center stage in 2013 (affecting their agencies and others)
  • Trends directly affecting their own work
  • Trends that their organizations are already addressing

The three trends ranked at the top of all three categories were those with the greatest impact on government productivity and effectiveness:

  • Mobility and bring your own device (BYOD)
  • Citizen/customer service
  • Collaboration with other agencies and with citizens

fedchartFollowing is a brief summary of each top trend presented in a white paper that is available for download.

Mobile Government Tops the Agenda

Mobile government/bring your own device (BYOD) tops the list of trends that respondents think will take center stage in 2013. Citizens and constituents are embracing mobile technologies and mobile apps at a rapid pace creating new opportunities for government agencies to engage with them. Mobile is an important channel for information distribution and can be critical for time-sensitive communications.

The government recognizes the importance of mobile communications. Improving citizens’ mobile access to government service is a critical part of the White House Digital Government Strategy. As part of the push to make digital government customer-focused, the strategy requires federal agencies to use mobile technologies for priority customer services.

Despite the push by the government to encourage use of mobile technologies, this is one area where agencies may be lagging in their efforts, as the white paper reports. While more than half of the respondents to the GovDelivery survey listed mobile/BYOD as a top trend, only 39 percent said their agencies are addressing this issue.

Citizen/Customer Service is Top of Mind

Citizen/customer service is one of the top trends in all three categories (broad trends, trends affecting the respondents’ own jobs, and trends already addressed within their organizations). Federal agencies want to improve service whether the customer is a taxpayer working with the IRS, a patient at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or one of the many other types of agency customers.

Communication, the first critical stage of customer service, is an area of opportunity for improved service. Yet many federal agencies are ignoring social media for relevant citizen interactions, according to the white paper, even though the White House Digital Government Strategy has a mandate to provide “customer-centric” government through the use of digital technologies. In 2013, expect federal agencies to follow their counterparts in state and local governments with expanded use of social media and other digital channels (SMS, email, self-service web, mobile apps) for customer service and citizen engagement.

Collaboration is Everyone’s Job

The top trend that respondents see affecting their own work is the trend toward collaboration, both with other government organizations and with citizens. They expect an increase in the use of digital communications to support collaboration, both inter-agency and with the public.

For example, collaboration with citizens often takes place on public forums utilizing social media channels. Inter-agency collaboration can range from cross-promoting digital content and initiatives to working together behind the scenes as happens when the government responds to emergency situations. When a major weather event occurs, such as a hurricane, federal agencies communicate internally and with state and local agencies.

Fueling collaboration are several converging trends, including:

  • Widely available digital tools and technologies that enable new levels of collaboration
  • The demand for increased productivity and efficiency with existing budgets
  • A new generation of individuals entering the workforce with collaborative work practices

Agencies will need to identify and implement appropriate technologies and policies/processes for managing digital communications and will need to consider security and accessibility issues.

Download the white paper for full survey details and analysis.

uspsWhen the transcontinental telegraph line was completed in 1861, the Pony Express stopped sending riders galloping across the United States to deliver important messages. Change marched on. Mail transport by the railway gave way to the highways and then the airways. Of course, the internet has ushered in the digital age, and again the communications field is experiencing the impact. It should come as no surprise to anyone that a decline in mail volume prompted the United States Postal Service (USPS) to consider stopping Saturday mail delivery, with the plan only being scrapped due to a Congressional mandate that’s been around since the 1980s.

Still, it’s clear that with online bill paying, e-mail, and other electronic communications, businesses have reduced the volume of traditional print mail created and distributed. This trend of decreasing dependence on traditional mail service supports polls showing strong public support for eliminating Saturday mail delivery to help the USPS meet its financial challenges.

In a CBS News poll, 71 percent of respondents favored the delivery cuts, and in a USPS poll, 80 percent expressed support. Both polls show broad support across all age and income groups and all regions of the country. Even Democrats and Republicans are aligned on this issue with 75 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats favoring the end of Saturday mail delivery, according to the CBS poll.

It might seem surprising that senior citizens support the mail delivery cut. But the fact is they too are using digital communications in increasing numbers. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 87 percent of senior citizens use e-mail and search engines. The fastest growth for social network site usage is among users age 74 and older. Also, more older adults than ever before are watching video, listening to music, and using classified ads online. A Nielsen study  found that the favorite online activities of people 65-plus are sending and receiving e-mail, viewing maps, checking the weather and paying bills.

Other trends also indicate the importance of the public sector adopting digital methods to meet the needs of constituents. For example, searching for health information online was once most popular among older adults but now is the third most popular activity for all internet users 18 and older. The Nielsen study found key internet activities are becoming more popular across all age groups. These include:web communication

  • Emailing
  • Using search engines
  • Seeking health information
  • Getting news
  • Buying products
  • Making travel reservations or purchases
  • Doing online banking

Increased online activity and clear broad support for mail delivery cuts further support the need for the public sector to start broadly adopting digital methods of communicating with the public. But I also know that this is the “easy” answer. The Postal Service’s budgetary and service situation much more complex, which means the answer isn’t necessarily going to be as simple as “going digital.”

To this end, there are some highly innovative and invested stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and government employees working together to bring a solution to the table. The upcoming PostalVision 2020/3.0 conference in Washington, DC, currently in its third year, hopes to do just that. GovDelivery CEO and co-Founder, Scott Burns, will be speaking at the conference as well, lending his expertise on government-to-citizen digital communication efforts.

What are your thoughts on using digital communications to provide information to the public? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the public sector can deliver better services in an increasingly digital world.

Yesterday, at just before 3 pm, bombs exploded near the finish line at Boston Marathon, often known as the world’s oldest annual marathon.

There are few words that can express the sorrow we here at GovDelivery are feeling – not just for Bostonians but for all the thousands of spectators from around the world who were in the crowd and city yesterday. While Boston may not be anywhere close to your city or town, the fact is that the Boston Marathon attracts runners from all around the world, in a spirit of sportsmanship similar to the Olympics. It’s likely you know someone who knows someone who was there. One of GovDelivery’s very own staff members was nearby during the explosion, with his daughter.

After reading about the explosions on a news website, I sent a text to my best friends in Boston to see if they were okay. Thankfully, as Bostonians, they had stayed home due to the normal disruptions of the marathon. They told me they were paying attention to television reports for updates on the developing situation, but they hadn’t received any other information. They were also following directions from the media to not use their cell phones for fear of cell phone detonation.

As a communications professional working for a communications software company focused on the public sector, I am acutely aware of how a situation like this disrupts our lives and yet, how critical it is for the public to be receiving important, official updates. Listening to the emergency responder calls on the news last night, one of the responders noted that someone needs to get on social media and let people know that the police were sweeping the area in search of other bombs and to stay inside.

In urgent and emergency situations like the Boston Marathon attack, reaching citizens and residents with information can be a matter of life and death. With clients like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), we’ve seen and partnered with government organizations to get the word out when it’s most critical. Here are three communications tips to implement quickly in any emergency:

  1. Leverage your digital properties. Social media is a great way to get the word out about an emergency situation, as Boston emergency responders noted. There’s no denying the ripple effect of social media in reaching an amazing amount of people. But people have become increasingly aware of the rumor mill on Twitter and Facebook. People still want to hear directly from you, and they’ll visit your website to find out more. Your website can hold as much information as needed. Be sure to update your organization’s websites and blogs, with prominent news placement on the home page, as soon as you can when an emergency hits.
  2. Use every communication channel you can. Your organization’s website or blog should be the main hub for information on the emergency. You can post detailed information to these digital properties, from updates on the current situation to links to other organizations that are providing help, such as the American Red Cross, to contact information for key people – either to report a tip or to try and find a loved one. But this doesn’t mean that you should ignore your other channels. During an emergency, the broader your reach, the better. Be sure to use email updates, text messages/SMS alerts, voice messages, and social media postings along with more traditional methods, such as news releases, press conferences, or media interviews, to push your messages out to the public in as many ways as possible.
  3. Communicate whenever you have an update. This seems like common sense but the truth is that, in emergency situations, the public craves information, and you want to make sure that they are receiving official information. During Hurricane Sandy, false tweets pervaded Twitter, adding to the fear of an already chaotic situation. By communicating often, with updates to your organization’s website and alerts going out via email, SMS, and social media, your organization can help provide the news that’s needed to keep the public informed and safe.

To streamline the communications process for the three tips above, offer the public options to sign up to receive updates from your organization. These updates can be via email, SMS, voice, RSS, or social media. This puts your information directly in the hands of the public. A communications platform that supports multichannel distribution with automation can be extremely helpful in times like these. Below, you can see an example from the National Guard Bureau on multichannel communications regarding the Boston Marathon attack.

Beyond handling the immediate logistics of getting people to safety and securing an area during an emergency, consistent communications in the aftermath of an attack like yesterday’s can also provide a stabilizing force.

Today, our thoughts and prayers are with those who’ve been affected by the Boston Marathon attack while we work alongside our many government partners to communicate critical information to the public.

For more information on what’s happening in Boston, visit:

 

Photo Gallery: The National Guard Bureau responds to the Boston tragedy.

Website:

National Guard Bureau-Web-Boston-Marathon

Email bulletin:

National Guard Bureau-Bulletin-Boston Marathon

News Widget:National Guard Bureau-Widget-Boston-MarathonSocial Media (Twitter & Facebook):

National Guard Bureau-Twitter-Boston-MarathonNational Guard Bureau-FB-Boston-Marathon

 

By Lance Horne, General Manager, GovDelivery Federal Team

I’m taking on a topic today that few want to think about, falling off clifflet alone manage: sequestration. Like many of you, I find it ironic that when the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 was passed, the unspoken goal was to avoid sequestration. Passing the BCA was intended to serve as an incentive for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka the “Supercommittee”) to reach a deal that cuts $1.5 trillion over 10 years. If the committee had done that, and Congress had passed it by Dec. 23, 2011, the sequester would have been averted. Paradoxically, that just didn’t happen.

The BCA stipulated that cuts would take effect at the beginning of 2013. But together with the Bush tax cuts and payroll tax cuts, this would have amounted to a giant fiscal contraction, and that would have thrown the United States into another recession. The combination of all these things rolled into one was dubbed the “fiscal cliff”. While a temporary deal was struck to avert the cliff and avoid sequestration until March 1, here we are today, nearly a month into sequestration.

Because of the insidious nature of the cuts, not all services will be affected at the same time, but instead cuts will be sporadic. For example, some national park areas will likely be blocked off, which right now might not be a huge deal, but once summer rolls around and it’s time to hire seasonal help and the public wants to visit the parks more, it will become a much larger concern. brick wallThe same goes for IRS refunds – no one will care until their refund is delayed, and then I suspect they’ll care a lot.

But how are government employees – including you – affected by all of this? Are you happy about the prospect of facing potential furloughs, or being told to cut back on a certain percentage of your work? You’ve already been doing more with less. Now you’ll be doing less with less. Therefore, it is critical that agencies not cut themselves off from employees during sequestration. Agencies will need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with their internal workforce. Gone are the days when reactive communication is status quo – people generally expect faster two-way digital communication where they are given a forum for voicing their concerns – and maybe even offering solutions to problems.

And here’s another irony – it’s very possible that some of the people who have been helping to manage digital communications within agencies are furloughed themselves, so it’s time to ensure that services are optimized and efficiently handled people circle ballin the face of diminishing staff.

This is where collaborative digital communication tools can be extremely helpful. By using a collaborative forum, you might be able to strengthen your relationship with employees by being able to gather feedback and create dialogue with your coworkers in an environment that’s more secure than a social network but more open than a typical intranet. By creating collaborative communities, you can create secure, virtual communities that encourage higher levels of engagement. Plus, you’ll be able to publish content quickly to as many, or as few, employees as you desire.

I’d like to hear about what you’re doing in your agency to effectively communicate with your employees who may have already been affected by sequestration. Any success stories? Are you forming employee communities? Have you found other ways to keep employees informed? Please share your story here.

 

I don’t have to tell you how constrained government budgets are these days. If you work in government, you know the depth of budget cuts and lack of resources – but this doesn’t mean that you stop doing the important work you’ve done before. money computerYou still need to communicate with your citizens and stakeholders about your services, from recycling updates to open park times to tax updates.

A recent white paper titled, Cutting the Costs of Paper: Digital Delivery of Government Messages & Statements, may provide another perspective on how to better reach citizens and stakeholders with important, personalized messages while working within constrained budgets. The white paper notes:

Many government agencies are achieving efficiencies through e-government initiatives that move processes and communications online. Yet paper is still an essential part of many communications between agencies and the public. These paper-based processes are often a bottleneck, slowing down essential processes such as payments while increasing costs for handling paper.

Some agencies send high volumes of these transactional messages, which often represent a sizable cost to the agency. The cost of printing and mailing is just the tip of the iceberg. Keeping these business processes on paper creates significant follow-on costs for handling inbound forms or calls. By moving these printed messages to electronic mail, agencies can realize significant cost savings while streamlining business processes and becoming more efficient.

What’s a transactional message? The white paper gives some examples, but it may be easier to start with a private sector example. For instance, if you have a credit card, you can usually set up a recurring email alert to notify you when your balance reaches a certain threshold. I have one of my credit cards set up to send me this kind of email alert; but it doesn’t just tell me that I’ve reached a certain balance, it also tells me exactly what my credit card balance is in the email. And then it gives me the option of clicking on a link to see more information through my credit card portal.

How would this work for government? An easy example would be property tax statements. Usually this information is mailed to the citizen or business, with a paper statement for payment,tms if that’s required. Because of the very specific information contained in the statement, it’s been easier for organizations to collate this information and print it, then mail it. The other option has usually been to implement or install an enterprise system that’s expensive and large to manage. But with advances in technology, especially with application programming interfaces (APIs), this is no longer the case. Legacy financial or citizen relationship management systems can remain intact while APIs do the work of pulling in personalized information and then sending out these transactional messages to their intended recipients. Transactions with government organizations that were generated from paper-based communications can move to an all-electronic process, saving your organization time, money and resources.

The white paper goes into more depth. But why not hear from an expert? GovDelivery’s Technical Product Manager, Tor Flatebo, is discussing this very topic on a live webinar on March 27. The webinar is free, and you can pick Tor’s brain on all the ways transactional messaging can work for your organization. Register today.

By Lance Horne, General Manager, GovDelivery Federal Team

Last year, Forbes magazine published an article written by a United States Marine Corp sergeant about what it’s like to return from combat. salut flagWhile warfighters are thrilled to be back, many face the surreal task of returning to the life they knew before combat. They come from an environment of unquestioningly taking orders, living in close quarters with their fellow soldiers, and under the constant stress of combat that few of us can easily relate to. Yet they are expected to come back and instantly integrate.

A number of federal agencies face a daily challenge of re-integrating the military when they do return from combat, and making sure returning warfighters are receiving the benefits they are entitled to. Federal agencies have quickly realized that they need to take their communications game up a notch or two to give these veterans and their families the information they need and deserve post-deployment. This has proved to be a perplexing problem, but there are things that can be done to improve.

Federal agencies feel compelled to deliver communications to warfighters and their families – especially when they come home soldier laptop– in a friendly and reliable manner. However, having the expertise to communicate in such a way is a special skill. And if we look back at what I talked about in my “Reach out …” posting a couple of weeks ago, more effective government-to-citizen (G2C) communications can boost an agency’s image and position it as an essential part of citizens’ lives. So where do agencies turn for help? Well, for starters, they could rely on technology partners to help them set up the means and the recommended communication channels to make talking with returning military and their families much more effective.

In the long run, finding the right technology partner is more cost-effective than trying to develop the systems on your own. For federal agencies, it has become essential to not only clearly and empathically communicate with returning military and their families, but to be able to gather feedback and open a two-way dialogue with them as well. Having an ability to communicate in such ways heightens the overall effectiveness of communications and makes the warfighter and his or her family feel more like they are participating in the process of reacclimating to civilian life and playing a strong role in the process of getting the information they need.

One such example of how effective communications can benefit warfighters comes from Washington state, where some war veterans were enrolled in Medicaid but not taking advantage of federal benefits. The state informed them of this discrepancy, and the vets were moved off Medicaid and onto federal programs, saving the state $30 million since 2004.man looking at clouds laptop

Once you have a steady stream of feedback from the audience you’re communicating with, what do you do with all of that data? As described in my last blog, “Taking an Entrepreneurial Jump on the Cloud“, agencies are starting to move to cloud computing to access and store data. Using traditional technology to wrestle meaning out of the information at your disposal is challenging.

New technology that you can coordinate through cloud computing will allow you to query gigantic data sets so you could find out where subscriber growth is, and when people are most interested in specific information.

If your agency is responsible for communicating with returning warfighters and their families, what has your experience been like? What success have you had? What could you have done better?

By John Simpson, Business Consultant, GovDelivery Federal

Just after the new year, the Washington Post advertised a recent study showing that an increasing amount of world leaders are taking to Twitter to increase their reach to the public. While this new report from the Digital Policy Council does show a significant upward trend in the number of leaders that are leveraging Twitter, a 75% increase from 2011, the more revealing graph is the one below that highlights which country’s heads of state have the largest amount of followers and supposedly the larger trend towards open government.

Map: Heads of State on Twitter

The Washington Post continues that “the numbers sound like a big win both for Twitter and for open government, which have gone hand-in-hand since even before the Arab Spring uprisings popularized social media as a form of civic participation in 2010.”

participation medalWhile it is undeniable that Twitter holds enormous outreach potential to a global population that is only increasing its use of social media tools, the assumption that “more leaders tweeting equals a more open society” is a misguided notion. Simply because a member of a leader’s staff maintains a regular presence on Twitter does not mean that anything being communicated is new or the government is becoming increasingly transparent. Having a large amount of followers does not automatically mean that a government is lending itself more to the idea of an active dialogue with its citizens. Without proactive engagement and real participation in public discussions, social media simply becomes an avenue for leaders to spam their followers. It is also not much of an accomplishment to tout a large base of followers over other global leaders when your country already has a large, social media savvy citizenry.military connection mobile

Many organizations that leverage social media, both within and outside of the government, use these tools as simply a device for re-purposing the same, old information. Having a bare bones social media policy does not mean an organization can boast about being more open to the public. Tools like Twitter and Facebook were not conceived as a one-to-many tool, but as a means to connect people across the world and discuss issues relevant to them. Whether it’s talking about your cousin’s ugly baby photos or the organization of a protest against a tyrant, Twitter is about proactive engagement and conversations. A steady and sizable increase in global leaders communicating to their population through social media is a positive trend, but progress cannot stop there. A country’s leader having a large following online doesn’t mean that the country itself is moving towards a policy of open government. It’s what a leader does with his or her social media megaphone that matters.

By Lance Horne, General Manager, GovDelivery Federal

reach out and touch someone

More than 30 years ago, an ad agency came up with a tagline to soften AT&T’s image and position the company as an indispensable element of everyday American life: “Reach out and touch someone.”  After spending the last 15-plus years working within the public sector in a variety of roles, I’ve formed some strong opinions about how agencies can leverage technology to communicate more effectively with citizens. I’ve also seen how more effective government-to-citizen (G2C) communications can boost an agency’s image and position it as an essential part of citizens’ lives, much like AT&T managed to do with its “Reach out” campaign. Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my thinking on this, starting with today’s post that focuses on G2C outreach and communication.

Government agencies have come a long way over the years in jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon – more are using web sites, Facebook and a variety of other social media channels to try to facilitate communications with citizens. But one area that’s still a quandary is how to get better at G2C communications, meaning ensuring that targeted information reaches the right audience, measuring the impact of communication efforts, and providing a conduit for citizens to not just consume information, but to react and respond to it. Many government agencies still rely on the more traditional forms of communication to get information to targeted groups of citizens, including advertising, print media, and channels that rely on physical delivery services.

Government agencies, much like industry entities, are most effective when efforts are focused on meeting the core mission. Things like defending our country, coordinating the logistics involved in keeping people fed and safe after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, and maintaining vital services are just a few of the areas where government focus is critical. It’s understandable that agencies might not have the time – or the expertise – to figure out how to more effectively reach out and touch citizens with vital communications. Clearly, leveraging industry providers with innovative and efficient technological offerings that have the capacity to effectively reach millions of recipients is a better approach.

Anyone who works within government realizes that you’re always going to be asked to do more with less. It’s been a general mandate for the past several years and isn’t going away anytime soon. So what do you do to boost G2C communications? One way is to develop a subscriber base and to immediately adopt subscribers from agencies with interests similar to your own. Working with the right industry G2C partner is something that agencies can do right off the bat to boost their profile and reach out and engage constituents more effectively.

If part of your overall mission is to have better relationships with citizens, then having a process in place for good G2C communications can help you accomplish that. And in the words of the AT&T tagline, you’ll be better able to reach out and touch someone.

Watch for more of my thoughts in coming weeks on topics such as cloud computing, improving communications with returning military and their families, and mining big information and ideas using big data technologies. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on G2C communications. What challenges are you having in this area? What successes?

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