A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues
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While social media has the potential to be a great add-on tool for customer service (communicating with the public through Twitter opens up possibilities for immediate interactions) most U.K. organisations are not using Twitter for direct stakeholder interactions. In fact, even though the majority of U.K. organisations have a Twitter account, only about a third of them are using those accounts to reply directly to customers. The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study compared 100 private sector U.K. companies’ response rates and consistency of response through email, Twitter, and their website. Not all channels proved to be equally effective.

Of the companies evaluated, 76% had a Twitter account. While companies were active in posting content, only 53% responded to questions tweeted at them. Of those responses, only 39% provided a useful response. Many organisations can become focused solely on sharing content on social media, but fail at responding to consumer inquiries. In such a public forum, managing complaints and stakeholder interactions can eat up a lot of time, and mismanaging or missing responses might mean you’re one hashtag away from an angry throng of followers.

Photo from Econsultancy

Photo from Econsultancy

So how can you avoid these issues and better respond and serve your customers online? Email.

How Email Helps

Email continues to be the most effective and thorough avenue for customer service. While some may complain about the response time, 41% of questions were answered thoroughly through email. However, of the tested companies, 29% were not at all reachable by email. This statistic is alarming, considering that email was the most successful in handling digital customer service inquiries. Take the time to put a general inquiry email address on your Twitter page or respond to social media requests with your email address to take the discussion to a channel where you can respond with more detail to keep your customers happy and engaged.

Another surprising statistics from this study was that the average wait time for a response over email was a whopping 61 hours and 39 minutes. Imagine the success that could be found by cutting this time in half.

Website Self-Service

Website interaction, similar to email, is another effective channel for communication. Of those surveyed, 63% of questions asked directly on websites were answered, up from 53% the previous year. The jump in questions answered has been credited to better self-service tactics—like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) pages.

 It is important to be diligent in giving accurate, timely, and thorough responses to public inquiries. Email will give you the most efficient platform to answer a variety of questions, from short, simple inquiries to more detailed situations. Additionally, you can keep customers engaged with your organisation by offering options to subscribe to email updates on their topics of interest. If using Twitter as a social media tool, be sure to not only post news and content, but also respond to all inquiries, even if it’s to direct social media inquiries to your customer service email team or the frequently asked questions page on your blog or website. Being consistent across all mediums will leave your public informed and engaged.

Is your organisation using Twitter or other social media channels for customer service inquiries? How are you structuring that today, and is there a team of individuals responsible? Let us know how your organisation is handling its customer service management in the comments below.

See original post on GovLoop.

Guest Post by: Derek Belt, Social Media Specialist – King County, WA

Have you watched somewhat helplessly these past few months as your Facebook interactions dropped rapidly? Has the “reach” of your posts dipped as low as you’ve ever seen it, no matter how great your content is?

It’s not your fault. It’s Facebook’s fault. And they’re doing it on purpose.

Here are just a few recent headlines from across the web:

The times they are a-changing (again)

This is an important topic and one organizations across the world are having right this very moment, from government agencies to high-powered marketing firms. Bottom line, we need to change the way we think about Facebook. It’s no longer a great communications tool (if it ever was is genuinely open for debate).

For many of us, the whole reason our organizations got on Facebook in the first place was to share information with the public. Well, recent changes to Facebook’s computer algorithm have made it increasingly difficult to reach our audiences, and it’s only going to get more difficult.

What’s changed? See my presentation below:

State of Facebook 2014 from King County, WA

So what do we do now?

Facebook can still be a great A) customer service portal, B) market research tool, and C) advertising platform. But it’s not a great communications tool any longer. Facebook has moved to a pay-to-play environment, meaning they have turned off what’s called “organic” reach and are asking us to pay money to reach fans (including our own). For the majority of public-service agencies, this is unrealistic.

That brings us to email and newsletters. Email has long been one of the most effective forms of digital communications. But let’s be honest — social media has distracted us a bit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We jumped at the opportunity to be cutting-edge, and rightfully so.

What’s cutting-edge now is to leave Facebook behind. Seriously. Ask your teenagers.

Email: Don’t call it a comeback

Here’s the one question we need to ask ourselves about Facebook: Who are we reaching? If we have 1,000 fans but can only reach 10% of them due to Facebook’s limited reach (hint, hint, see the presentation above), is that really worth the time investment we’re making to share information on Facebook? Paying a few bucks here and there to boost our posts is cheap and (kind of) works, but it adds up quickly.

On the other hand, if we invest our time and resources in building and nurturing an email list or newsletter with the same 1,000 people, we know we can reach everybody on that list whenever we hit send. Please keep in mind that we’re just talking about reach here (i.e. the number of people who actually “got” the message). On Facebook, we can reach 10% whereas on email we can reach close to 100% factoring out bounce-backs.

Of course, open rates and click-through rates are traditionally low on email, but not as low as on Facebook. At least with email we know we’re going to reach the audience. After that, it’s on us. We can work to improve subject lines, newsletter design, and content strategy. Those are things in our control.

On Facebook, we control very little. We can’t even reach our own fans. So it’s a matter of 10% reach on Facebook vs. 100% reach on email.

Those numbers are striking. We need an exit strategy for Facebook.

Our digital communications tour is in full swing! Over the last month we’ve visited Oakland, CA and Austin, TX, sparking conversations on the value of technology, outreach, and communications in government, as well as strategies to increase that value. We’ve hosted many innovative, successful speakers, from private sector thought leaders with successful social media start-ups to public sector communicators like yourselves working in state, city, and county government. Our speakers have presented on trends, strategies and tactics to connect with more stakeholders and inspire them to take action – online or offline – to drive mission value. tx-tour-14

But the tour isn’t over! In April, we’ll be taking our tour to three more cities, Raleigh, NC and Washington, D.C., before hosting our final stop in St. Paul, MN. If you haven’t already, make sure to register for the event in your city today, space is limited!

One of the best parts of the digital communications tour is the opportunity to listen to what other government communicators have to say about recent trends and what takeaways they find most important. Rather than synthesize those conversations into our own words, check out some of the snippets from Twitter during our last two tour stops and make sure to follow along with the hashtag: #GovD14.

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Interested in attending an event in your city? Visit our registration pages for more information:

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This post is a continuation from last month’s blog answering some of the questions we received during and following our Citizen Engagement webinar with insights from Ruthbea Clarke of IDC Government Insights and Mary Yang of GovDelivery.

In the last post, we were able to compile the responses to questions answered during the webinar. Here are some of the questions and answers that we weren’t able to address live during the webinar because of time constraints.

If you’d like to hear more of the presentation Ruthbea and Mary gave, watch the webinar here or read the Analyst Connections brief here. The questions have been edited in some cases for further clarification.

Q: How might we address the resistance within public sector departments to innovative outreach tools?
As the mandates to “do more with less” continue to permeate the public sector, more innovative and digital-focused approaches to outreach take hold, even in departments who may be resisting the move to digital communications. If you’re trying to put digital communications on the top of the agenda in your department, start by crunching some numbers. Digital communications can be a huge cost savings (by replacing paper processes) as well as a revenue generator (by enabling you to connect with more people and automate revenue-driven messages, such as “renew your hunting or fishing license now”). Check out our “Customer Satisfaction and E-Government ” white paper for more information on how digital communications can help achieve tremendous cost savings, while improving citizen satisfaction. This may provide you with some leverage to push your organization to use digital communications to meet mission goals. 

­Q: How much are citizens engaging with local governments’ social media posts?­

Social media can be a great tool to connect with your stakeholders in certain situations, but the extent your social media posts are read, commented on, and shared may vary. Oakland County, Michigan’s animal services team used both social media and email to send out stories of pets waiting for homes, and they saw an increase in adoption rates. On the other hand, at the Power of Reach tour stop in Oakland, folks from the City of Sacramento talked about using the website, blog and email more heavily to reach stakeholders when they noticed their Facebook account started seeing less engagement as Facebook changed its Newsfeed algorithms. Still, it’s difficult to ignore social media, even if it’s not going to be place where your citizens engage with you. At the end of the day, local governments are going to have to employ a multichannel approach to reach and engage citizens. For more information on engaging social posts, check out this blog post.

Q: Can you give some examples of broad attempts to engage the public in two-way communications about government topics?

One example of great two-way government-to-citizen communications is the Stearns County Sherriff’s Office (check out the new infographic on Stearns County here). Stearns County sends regular public updates embedded with buttons depicting different tip submission channels: Phone, Email, or Web. Each button redirects to the Sheriff’s Office phone number, email address, or an online tip submission tool. Just thirteen minutes after sending its inaugural message with GovDelivery, the Sheriff’s office received a tip. A simple email format with a clear, engaging call to action has empowered Stearns County residents to report information to their office, engaging in a two-way dialogue that results in better crime prevention. ChooseMyPlate

Other strategies you can employ to engage in two-way conversations online are to like your followers’ Facebook posts, retweet your followers, respond to YouTube comments, respond to Yelp reviews or survey results, reply to citizen emails and blog comments, all in a timely manner. Organizations like Choosemyplate.gov (see the image to the right) and Michigan DNR even host Twitter chats where they take the time to engage with their audience.

­Q: Regarding the security of cloud computing: is it more secure, about as secure or less secure than non-cloud alternatives?­
It’s going to depend on the software you’re using and how closely that technology is monitoring and following set security protocols. The best answer is, it depends. Legacy, on-site software can be vulnerable to security threats, just as cloud-based software can. The cybersecurity stories in government news over the past year can prove how true that statement is.

When you dive into the cloud computing realm, you should ask the tough security questions. And if you work with a government-focused partner, security should be a top issue. At GovDelivery, the security of our cloud platform is taken very seriously. We have achieved International Security Certification 270001 from the British Standards Institution as well as G-Cloud Security Accreditation level IL2 in the U.K. We serve clients from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Defense. By aligning our software with rigorous security certificates and programs, we safeguard cloud security.

Q: Does citizen contact information become subject to public record requests?­
This truly depends on where you are located. On a federal level, this kind of information has been protected as an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

For states, there is no uniform policy, so this is something you may need to look into if you’re a local government employee. Many states have or are changing legislation to protect digital lists of citizen contact information, but some states have not yet broached the subject of digital records requests of this nature.

Do you have any other questions to add to the list? Comment below!

The changing face of facebook

By Amy Larsen, Client Success Consultant

 Facebook login screen circa 2004

Facebook login screen circa 2004

As a government communicator, how can you be sure you’re connecting with your audience with the continuously changing landscape in social media? A channel that is nearly ubiquitous in the world of online communications is Facebook. Boasting more than 1 billion monthly active users, Facebook continues to dominate the social media world and has its sights set on reaching “the next 5 billion” users, despite there only being about 2.7 billion people online today worldwide. Although relatively young (it just turned 10 this year), Facebook has been through a lot of changes and evolutions over the last decade, and its not always easy to keep up with them. I was personally thankful to see that creepy guy in the upper left corner of the login screen disappear for good around 2007, but the changes of course have been far more than simply aesthetic updates.

Let’s take a look at some of the most recent changes, and how they may affect you.

Most people know that Facebook has an algorithm to give each of its users a tailored experience on the site, but not as many know that this algorithm is constantly getting tweaked to not only enhance each user’s experience, but also to give more value and reach to its paying customers. So where does that leave Facebook pages or organizations with no budget to use to promote posts? More often, the answer is becoming …cue the crickets. Some clients that I work with have already reported seeing a dip in their reach and likes on Facebook as recently as January 2014.  Diminishing likes, fewer comments and lower overall engagement, even for pages that have large existing audiences, may be a reality that more government communicators will have to work around in the coming year.

Facebook has also changed the standard for the type of content it deems likely that your audience will actually want to see on their News Feeds. Content that is timely, relevant, succinct and inherently shareable will be more likely to appear in your audiences’ News Feed, while content that does not fall into these categories may go relatively unnoticed. Since Facebook has raised the standard on the content that is likely to be shared across your audience, it may be time to make a plan to adjust your strategy to align with these new standards for content. Pictures, videos, and shorter, less wordy posts have been recognized as more likely to get your audience’s attention on email and social channels.

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Another notable change that the latest round of Facebook News Feed adjustments includes the ability for organizations to promote their content to people who haven’t liked their page by tagging pages or people that others have already liked in a post. For instance, if Bleacher Report tags the Toronto Raptors in a post, and I’ve liked the Raptors’ page on Facebook, I might see this post from the Bleacher Report, even though I’ve never liked the Bleacher Report directly. This cross promotion opens new doors for brands and organizations to promote each other, but it also may turn subscribers off if they suddenly see a lot of content from pages they haven’t previously liked.

With the frequent changes coming from Facebook, it will be essential for communicators to evaluate their content strategy to adjust to the changing environment – if your content is not getting noticed on Facebook, what are other channels you will use to reliably connect with your stakeholders? Email has consistently been recognized as the winning channel when it comes to directly connecting with subscribers, and Twitter at the very least will always display your content in your followers’ feeds, even if it only stays there for a few minutes. If you’re looking at your options for increased outreach this year, make sure to consider every method available to better engage with your audience, and be sure to stay informed on how to make these tools work for you.

In recent years, social media channels have taken the limelight as the preferred platform for communications and connectivity to the masses. Organizations wishing to disseminate information broadly and efficiently are embracing social media as one of their core marketing tools, even using outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to pitch press releases to journalists. Many government organizations have followed suit, choosing to broadcast their press releases and other important messages via social channels.

Image by Place.it

Image by Place.it

While social platforms are an effective means of communication with stakeholders in both sectors, communicators know that every communications tool has a specific purpose and isn’t suited for every communications job, especially media relations.

Reporters and journalists’ opinions of social platforms vary. As they are the primary target of press releases, their perceptions should be taken with great concern. According to a recent article by PR Daily, journalists “view social media more as a tool for self-promotion than for connecting with sources… The biggest groups of respondents said they most often use social media for connecting with viewers and readers or promoting stories.”

Furthermore, social media lacks the authority and credibility that email holds. In the same article, reporters were asked to rank on a scale of one to ten their trust in information coming from social media. The predominant group (27.2 percent) gave it a five out of ten. According to PR Daily, reporters prefer pitches and press releases delivered via email: “Nearly half of the respondents—45 percent— said they’d rather not receive pitches through social media at all.”

The journalistic preference for email isn’t surprising. Consider the nature of email versus social media. Social media is transitory and dynamic in nature: it’s hard to keep up with the constant flow of information and easy to miss important messages. Email, on the other hand, is static and unobtrusive. It stays resident in one’s inbox, and can be easily stored, categorized and filed. It lacks the social chatter that may disrupt the focus and impact of a tightly packaged and delivered message. Responses are one-to-one and direct to the sender.

Press releases are staples in government communications. They enable journalists to continue to disseminate important government information to the public. Proponents of social platforms should take caution in using social media as the primary channel to deliver news stories to both journalists and the public. Traditional email communication allows for direct connection and information delivery that supports building a relationship with a reporter over time.

It’s difficult to keep up with the newest social media trends; just when you think you know the most important sites available to communicate with the public, new ones pop up. There are currently no less than 70 networking sites deemed federal-compatible for government use, making the possibilities somewhat overwhelming.

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The increase of social media platforms on the scene reiterates how important it is to have a robust digital communications strategy as a backbone. As new social media platforms come and go, having a good mix of digital communication tactics like email, text messaging/SMS, a strong website, as well as social media will ensure you never have any gaps  reaching your audience on a platform they’re comfortable with using.

GSA made two new additions to their approved list of platforms recently, Tint and CrowdHall. As a government communicator, you may be wondering if these social media networks will stand the test of time. Are they worth considering as another tool to add to your multichannel strategy toolbox? We’ve put together more information on both sites, designed to make it easier to manage your digital community, to help you make that decision.

CrowdHall: A public place to meet and discuss online

CrowdHall is making it easier than ever for public officials to have live and interactive discussions with the public. With CrowdHall, an organization can hold virtual town hall meetings via the host’s web page, Facebook, or directly on CrowdHall’s site. The audience votes on questions or topics, letting the host know the significance of the topic to the group. After participants have added their questions, they are notified when the host has answered and the crowd can continue to comment on each topic.

Unlike previous online town hall options available, Crowdhall allows the organization hosting the event to answer with photos, video, or text supporting their answer. Participants can return to the meeting and see what the crowd decided were the most significant issues. The participants are empowered by the experience of a town hall where they have a voice in ranking the most important issues and moderate their own discussions. Instead of talking “at” your audience, you can engage “with” your audience in an effective two-way conversation—a handy tool for many government organizations looking for another way to engage with their stakeholders.

Tint: Compile your social media posts into one visual display  

Tint makes it possible for you get the most out of all of your social media sites by putting them in one place. You sign up and create what visually can be compared to one “Pinterest-looking” page that displays highlights from all of your social media sites. The posts can be organized by hashtag or you can dictate exactly which images, words, or videos are displayed.

Since everyone has a different social preference, Tint is a great way to grab your audience via their preferred social network and keep them engaged. Tint also allows you to embed social feeds into your website, providing visitors with the most up-to-date and engaging information—another way to extend the life of your social media posts. You also have access to analytics that can help you determine your most popular social networks and posts to better assess what information to display for your audience.

Although some social media sites may disappear before the majority of the public can even think to login, keep new networks that may help you strengthen your stakeholder connections on your radar, with a strong multichannel digital strategy in your back pocket as well. By using new communication tools to connect with new loyal audience members, you can also cross-promote your website and email messages to those new audience members to strengthen that connection and make sure they’re never missing out on any important messages.

Do you think you’ll use CrowdHall or Tint? What other new technology are you thinking of implementing in your organization? Let us know in the comments below!

After reading through what may have been my hundredth list of government communications, social media, and technology predictions for the new year, I came across one prediction that warranted a break in my obsessive trend reading: “numbers no longer matter.”

In the Huffington Post’s list of 12 social media predictions in 2014, author Penny C. Sansevieri says:

“There was a time when we all clamored for a huge number of followers… Now it seems that while big numbers are great, engagement is better.… Think of it this way, what if you were speaking to a huge crowd of people but they all fell asleep during your presentation. Rude? Maybe. But also perhaps an indicator that you need to be more engaging or, at the very least say something to keep them from falling asleep.”Numbers

This prediction doesn’t tell the whole story in the public sector, where the number of people you reach with a message can have a profound impact on citizens’ lives. Government communicators work to reach the maximum amount of people with important messages—like to take shelter from a winter storm. The number of people following or subscribing to that organization to get notifications on that impending snow storm is incredibly important, as is how many of those people go on to engage with that message by forwarding, retweeting, or sharing it.

So, to better apply Penny’s observation in the public sector, I suggest this update: numbers are no longer the only things that matter. Citizen engagement and interaction with your messages has a direct impact on whether you as a government communicator can reach your organization’s mission goals. One of your most important tasks is to inspire action in citizens. Whether it’s to get a flu shot, complete a tax form, or file for a fishing license, citizen engagement with your organization’s messages is crucial to meeting mission goals. You can’t achieve these mission goals if citizens don’t engage with the messages that encourage participation in your programs. (But again, you also can’t complete your mission goals if citizens never hear from you in the first place.)

So how do you increase engagement with the messages your organizations sends and posts so as the article says, “you keep [your audience] from falling asleep”? Here are a few engagement tips:

  1. Keep your message clear, brief and interesting. It’s more likely to be read and engaging for readers when they don’t need a dictionary on hand to understand what you’re saying. Check out this post on fighting jargon in your organization for guidelines on writing in a more plainspoken style and this top 7 Reach the Public post on writing creative, engaging content.
  2. Don’t ignore the analytics. Check your email, social media and website analytics often. Measure which messages see higher engagement rates and resonate more with your audience and then adjust accordingly. Make sure you’re sending out the type and style of content your audience wants, instead of just the content you want them to have. Read through this post on analytics and segmentation for more tips.
  3. Optimize for multiple platforms. There’s no easier way to make stakeholders ignore your messages than to not allow them to read it. Optimizing your emails and websites so that stakeholders can read your messages on desktop or mobile devices is imperative to ensuring you’re providing the opportunity for engagement. Check out these tips on optimizing your website  and emails with responsive designs to accommodate every platform your audience may be reading your messages on.

Do you have any additional tips for optimizing engagement? Do you agree that numbers are no longer the only things that matter? Comment below!

By Michael Bayliss-Brown, Public Sector Sales Consultant

How the Ministry of Defence (MoD) can streamline digital communications to engage the public, increase efficiency, improve effectiveness and achieve cost savings.

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Guardian recently hosted a live chat regarding digital transformation at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to uncover the innovation, transparency and citizen engagement at work within the walls of Whitehall. Jon Thompson, permanent under secretary for the MoD, said before the chat: “Defence has long enjoyed digital pre-eminence in the battle space, but we have lagged behind in the way we exploit digital to make our business more efficient and effective”.

This is not the first time you’ll hear government referred to as “a business”. Government and industry leaders recognise the need for a solid business case and process underpinning their digital communications strategies at both the central and local government levels.

According to Liz Azyan, Digital Strategist and Social Media Marketing Consultant, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is setting an excellent example of putting users first with its business tax dashboard:

 Giving small business customers the ability to perform several transactions with the department on a single platform and providing them with the tools and library of information that they need to complete those transactions, puts the customer first. It’s supporting users in a way that says, ‘We care and we want to help you in the best way we can’. And sometimes for users, that’s the best type of support you can ask for – the visibility of thought and care to their needs and also, the ability to give feedback to improve”.

Roger Hutton, director defence strategy and digital leader at the Ministry of Defence stated:

We’re now (as it says in Digital in Defence) concentrating on better understanding the user requirement, developing digital awareness among the department’s senior leadership and skills across its workforce, re-examining our principal interfaces with citizens (particularly for veterans and potential recruits) and improving ICT capabilities for business delivery.”

Currently MoD is leveraging a variety of innovative communication channels to engage with audiences inside and outside the department. Social media is enabling the digital team to quickly gauge public sentiment on subjects and provide important material via new mediums, like photography and video.

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful communications channel, and digital teams should leverage that channel to reach the public. However, according to a Pew Research survey in the U.S., email is the most popular online activity for adults, so it should be the channel of choice for government organisations, complemented by social networking sites.

MoD would benefit from observing the digital technology already in use in other departments as a blueprint for its own digital programme. Many government organisations are solving users’ challenges by simply enabling citizens and stakeholders to receive information proactively and allowing them to subscribe to news that is relevant to their daily lives.

According to Liz Azyan, sharing with and learning from digital leaders at other departments is necessary for government to thrive in a digital environment. During the discussion, panellists cited HMRC and Norfolk County Council as examples of digital transformation at the central and local levels. While local authorities tend to focus on increasing external customer engagement and reducing the cost of that engagement, both central government and local authorities are leveraging technology to engage the public, enhance customer satisfaction, and achieve cost savings using online channels.

According to OFCOM, UK’s independent regulator and competition authority for communication industries, 94 percent of adults own or use a mobile phone, while 55 percent of adults with home internet use social networking.  It’s tempting to assume that social networking sites will ensure engagement with citizens. However, a more effective tactic for reaching and engaging internal employees and the public would be a hybrid approach, utilising direct email and social media to proactively connect with audiences.

A Pew Research survey in the US found that 92 percent of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web, including 59 percent who do so on a typical day. Among online adults, 92 percent use email, with 61 percent using email on an average day. Since the Pew Internet Project began measuring adults’ online activities in the last decade, these two behaviours have consistently ranked as the most popular. Even as early as 2002, more than nine in ten online adults were emailing.

Over 60 UK government organisations at the central and local levels are leveraging GovDelivery’s digital platform; successfully cross-promoting services and news across various departments and geographies. Organisations are able to provide a resident in Southampton, Norwich or Devon the option of subscribing to Met Office, HMRC, Department of Health, or GOV.UK alerts. These government organisations are streamlining communications to integrate with websites, social media and SMS channels and allowing the public to access messages and updates at their convenience. Nearly three million UK residents currently subscribe to government news via GovDelivery alerts. If MOD were able to tap into this existing network, it would help to expand its reach, complement existing communications efforts, and increase engagement.

If MoD can focus on delivering digital services that put users’ needs at the heart of its mission—making it easier, quicker and more efficient for the public to engage and connect—then it would be doing the public and other government departments a huge service.

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