Let’s start with the basics – what is civic technology, and why is it so hard to get right?

Where the purpose of civic technology is to engage the government and the people, there are significant practical challenges to successful delivery such as aligning policy with digital services, designing digital interfaces that help constituents complete their tasks, and equipping government with the right digital mindsets, methods, and tools. Too frequently these issues have resulted in projects that delivered confusing or even unusable user experiences. What’s worse is that most of these projects started with the right intentions, and significant public investments, but ended in very visible failures.


Bigger isn’t always better

The track record for large scale digital projects in the public sector isn’t good. Headline news stories include cyber security vulnerabilities exploited in the IRS website, design, and infrastructure issues that plagued and ultimately required a complete redesign of healthcare.gov – and a long list of failed federal and state projects like the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) for Rhode Island.

Big ambitions, big consultancies, and big budgets couldn’t deliver the expected results. Moreover, angry users and negative press intensified demand on the projects, and made it more difficult to rally support for the next initiatives.

Partnering with vendors with a successful track record of navigating the complexities of public policy and organizational structure, and ultimately launching exceptional user experiences, is more critical than ever before.


Employee experience and the future of work

While government employees are being asked to improve the digital services and interfaces for the public, the reality for most is that they aren’t equipped for success. Digital literacy is a significant challenge where employees may not know “what does good look like” in terms of appearance, behavior, and functionality for digital services. This makes it very hard for employees to know what to ask from vendors – and to judge what has been delivered.

The tools that public sector employees are provided to create new public experiences, are themselves commonly difficult to use. Complex, proprietary frameworks require specialized training – and often constrain what can be delivered to users in both design and functionality.

And what does the everyday work experience look like for most government employees? Generally they are using old systems and interfaces to access employee services and business applications including HR, finance, and operations. Should we reasonably expect employees to delight the public when their standard of digital experience is so poor?


Digital Mindset, Methods, and Tools

Code literacy for all isn’t the answer. However, public sector organizations should be asking if they are creating an environment where civic technology projects can be successful in meeting the needs of government AND the people.

Asking “how might we foster a digital mindset with our employees?” is a good starting point.This may include education on basic digital literacy and culture, training on user-centered design methods – and intentional investment in solutions and tools that actually make it easier to deliver services with intuitive and compelling user experiences.


Learning from Challenges, and from Successes

It’s not all bad news, and there is an opportunity to learn both from challenges and successes in civic technology projects.   Although less frequently reported, public sector organizations are successfully launching modern and compelling digital user experiences for constituents and employees.

In the news and across our website you can learn about how organizations like the City of Boston, and others used InFlight to re-imagine civic experiences for government and the people using a digital mindset, methodologies, and tools.


If you have questions about civic technology, give us a call at 1-800-853-7505 or request a demo below.


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