Improving digital services can help restore the public’s trust in government
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While Congress has taken some critical steps to improve government IT systems by passing the Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT Act), which makes it easier for agencies to make new investments in technology by establishing a $250 million Technology Modernization Fund, and the Connected Government Act that requires federal agencies to build websites that are mobile friendly – there is a lot more that they can do.

With trust in government at an all-time low – policymakers need to think of new ways to restore the public’s trust. Recently, Adobe and WPP released a study that benchmarks how governments in seven countries are currently performing in their online service delivery – in short, citizens want government to shift from a legacy mindset to a citizen-centric mindset.  People want digital services tailored to them that facilitate a relationship and a dialogue with government – like the ones they receive from private sector companies.

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Improving government services by moving them online was a good first step that has been many years in the making. It began the important move towards improving ease of use to citizens and reducing the cost of services for taxpayers. This has been born out by the data, which shows that the average in-person government transaction costs $16.90, while the average digital government transaction is $0.40, according to research from Deloitte.

Now, the research suggests that government needs to focus less on simply delivering a service online and more on experiences that are personal and relevant to the user. The current legacy approach thinks of digital experiences as completing a clunky transaction on a website or an app. The innovation mindset envisions seamless, fulfilling and citizen-centric online services that complement each other whether they occur online or at an agency’s field office. This mindset helps government generate a virtuous cycle of engagement and trust with citizens.

Well-designed digital services should focus on providing a delightful citizen journey that is mobile-optimized, so it is responsive across smartphones, tablets, and desktops with a design that is easy to navigate. Perhaps most importantly, the content should be relevant to the needs of each user and should reinforce the relationship between the citizen and the provider.

For example, approximately 1 million people live and work in San Francisco. For years, paying property taxes was a particularly complicated task in San Francisco, resulting in numerous delinquent payments—and a lengthy waiver process that was a burden for the public and the local government. To solve this problem, the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector for the City and County of San Francisco consolidated four legacy payment portals into a single system, making it easier for individuals and organizations to pay taxes. The office has nearly halved the time needed to create and send property tax bills while eliminating errors through automation. And by clarifying payments, taxpayers are filing fewer waivers and delivering more payments on time. Doing little things like providing pre-filled tailored information, instant online communication for help, and additional relevant information that is unique to users makes a big difference.

To make this a reality, Congress should take steps to designate and ensure every agency has a chief experience officer (CXO) or senior agency official who can work across departments and focus on making it easier for citizens to access the information and services they need. The federal government spends millions of dollars building websites, maintaining call centers and developing mobile apps that many citizens cannot navigate. In making these changes, the federal government can also make accessibility a priority so people of all abilities can access and obtain the government services they need online.

We’ve seen many governments go through digital transformations, making major investments in citizen services. Now it’s time for Congress and the federal government to prioritize citizen experience and the technology that enables it because research shows that providing better digital services reduces costs, improves citizen satisfaction and increases trust in government.

Jace Johnson is Adobe’s vice president of Government Affairs and Public Policy.