While more and more companies are beginning to understand the importance of designing based on the user experience, the public sector lags behind. That’s a source of concern for two reasons. One is that the digital services provided by the state administration are essential for users: citizens don’t have a choice nor alternatives to those services. The other is that our tax money goes to the state budget, which should return to us in the form of effective and friendly channels of interaction.
It’s critical to find design criteria that take both digital natives and digital immigrants into consideration, to restructure public services and, above all, to adopt a culture that puts citizens and their needs first. Those should be the main goals of design teams working in state projects. Designers Rodrigo Trejo, intive-FDV, and Mariano Iacobacci, América Virtual, came to talk about their experience working in the team of Digital Citizen Experience at a stage agency. What are the challenges of working in design for the federal administration, or rather, designing with the citizen in mind?
Digital Services for Digital Immigrants
When analyzing websites and digital services of new or existing state agencies, we have to think about digital immigrants. Who are they?
They are also known as millennials, the last analog generation born in a world where both the cassette recorder and CD player still existed and were items of everyday use. “That’s something we won’t see ever again. Everyone born in this age is a digital native,” explains Mariano.
The services manual from the United Kingdom government, Understanding users who don’t use digital services, defines digital immigrants as people who:
- prefer non-digital channels and are reluctant to switch to the digital service,
- can’t access or afford the technology to go online,
- lack, or believe they lack, the digital skills required to use the service.
In addition, the state administration not only has to deal with digital immigrants, but also with a very specific type of user: citizens. It’s likely that citizens, either digital natives or digital immigrants, have had bad experiences in the past dealing with state agencies and that they are skeptical. What about?
- About the cloud and the online world: they think they lose control over things because they don’t have a supporting print document; they demand copies, paper, reinsurance.
- About the institutions, because they have lost time and money doing bureaucratic procedures in the past and they think there’s a lack of interest in the State towards the people.
- About digital services, because they don’t understand them or aren’t familiar with them.
The stress experienced by citizens makes it paramount to create a closer relationship between them and the state administration. For the user, it’s an essential and inevitable interaction. Our goal, as in any UX design process, is to make the application not only adequate but also friendly for users, so that they want to use it.
Improving What We Already Have
Rodrigo and Mariano went through three stages in the Digital Citizen Experience project in order to measure and improve the user experience, and thereby mitigate the UX debt:
- Heuristics: Which are the applications users have to use to access a certain social service? What’s the process like?
- User tests (at points of personalized attention): How do users interact with the system?
- Users’ feedback: How do users interact with the institution through this specific channel? What’s their experience like?
These three stages helped them better understand the relationship between citizens (users) and the state administration. The main insights that resulted from the analysis were: inefficient tools, obsolete technology, collapsed communication channels, and predominance of a technical language specific to federal agencies that broaden the gap between the State and the citizens. Having identified those issues, the team could begin improving the citizens’ experience by means of the renowned digital transformation. But how?
- By understanding which are the actions performed and the services provided.
- By understanding which are the sources of information for the user, which channels they use and how they are connected.
- By defining an ideal flow and building on intuition and processes the users are already familiar with.
What Not to Lose from Sight
It’s vital to keep the interaction between citizens and the state administration to the minimum whenever it’s possible to automate processes, by crossing databases and avoid asking numerous times for the same information, for example. In that way, communication between citizens and the State would become efficient enough to generate confidence in the system. The goal is to integrate the state administration in order to create an omni-channel experience for citizens, so that they know where they stand along the process. Those are the biggest goals to achieve in processes of design improvement or UX redesign of state digital services.
Reducing bureaucracy and optimizing operational efficiency will result in a better relationship between citizens and the State. Improving processes with the citizen in mind will optimize the experience of the user of state digital services, who ultimately is you, me and everyone else.