Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Citizen engagement in government and customer experience may have more in common than you think

At today's Technology Salon at IREX, I heard many ways Customer experience (CX) and citizen engagement practitioners could learn from one another. The focus of the Salon was empowering developing world citizens to define what a government should do, see it enacted, and rate the result. And by the way, how can ICT's facilitate and accelerate it? Change the word “government” to company, and it sounds like CX practitioners focused on customer loyalty.
Here are a few areas where I found similarities:

Satisfaction has value Governments already use customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys(a quick survey for citizen satisfaction on the web results in the City of Calgary’s recent study, including surveys managed by customer experience analytics firm Foresee). In today’s discussion, someone mentioned the Knight Foundation tracks citizen satisfaction metrics to measure participatory engagement success. Something like a Net Promoter Score (NPS) for government might help here (it has already been suggested for the social sector).

In companies, you usually reinforce CSAT results’ importance by linking metrics like NPS to bonuses and employee engagement initiatives. Making this kind of link in government might be a novel idea, but adopting it could be difficult; and it certainly isn’t realistic in locations where even paying government officials is a challenge.

Good engagement depends on universal rules One presenter* laid out qualities required for good citizen engagement:
  • Citizens care about issues at hand
  • Citizens feel if they participate in a government initiative, it will bring about change
  • Citizens who participate feel like you have been heard
  • It has to be easy to participate

These could apply to any engagement community, and are just as important when creating voice of customer listening posts. Proactively designing the experience can ensure that these priorities are being met.

Identify trust-building opportunities during the design process Trust in government is key to ensuring participation, just as it is in any experience design process. Participatory feedback already assumes participants have bought into the participatory process, and so trust already needs to be in place. If citizens are involved during the initiative design, building trust can be a central topic of design discussion, and will help identify trust barriers that can be overcome before launch.

Hypothetical Citizen Engagement Lifecycle
In this hypothetical citizen engagement lifecycle, there are several areas to focus on with citizens helping in the participatory design process (read my post here if you aren’t familiar with experience lifecycle design). Just as a company needs to deliver on promises it makes when customers find out about its offer, governments need to deliver on expectations created when citizens begin to consider participating in the participatory government process. Designing the entire experience with citizens will help identify how to make sure that happens.

Scale and Technology Scale is often talked about in citizen engagement, but some of the most successful citizen engagement processes happen on the local level. Local government deals with issues directly affecting citizens, and participating citizens have more impact on the local level, because the participant pool is smaller.

At the same time, technology, such as SMS surveys and social media, has a different impact depending on the target population. In more connected urban areas, campaigns run through technology channels might have greater engagement than in rural locations. Citizen feedback may have the highest impact when collected the same way companies run CX programs in diverse markets: use technologies through a multi-channel approach and turning government employees into listening posts.

A cohesive listening strategy could focus on targeted citizen engagement appropriate for the local level, with specifically identified decision indicators that can be aggregated to use at the national level. For example, CSAT studies are often conducted by companies in multiple countries, and aggregated to an international level. They may also offer potential best practice applications for citizen engagement.

Overall, this was a fascinating conversation, and there is a lot of room for discussion between the two sectors. If a citizen experience approach sounds interesting to you, why? What would you like to see from your government at its engagement touch points? How will this affect the democratic process in general?

*I didn’t cite presenters in this post because the Technology Salon uses the Chatham House Rule, or as they put it “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. I'm happy breaking this rule if those who commented want to be identified. 


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  3. The ‘publicness of infrastructure’ makes citizen engagement vital to planning transport infrastructure in a democracy, argues Crystal Legacy in her recent article ‘Sidelining citizens when deciding on transport projects is asking for trouble’.
    Citizen Participation in Public Infrastructure