• Leading The Charge To Citizen Engagement

    by  • April 24, 2009 • eGovernment

    Two people engaging in conversation

    I keep an eye on USAJobs just to see what positions the Federal government is trying to fill. Lately, there have been a lot of postings for Chief, New Media, New Media Specialist, and similar positions.  Most of these positions are in agency communications or public relations groups and are responsible for aspects of the agency Web site, implementing blogs, and assisting agencies in understanding this new Web 2.0 world.

    Filling positions like these is important, as there are lots of government employees writing blogs, twittering, and using other forms of social media. But government is missing a unique opportunity to really engage with citizens. If you look at most of the blogs, follow the tweets, check the Web pages, government is going about its adoption of Web 2.0 pretty much the same way government has always gone about this – we talk and you listen. Is that really engagement?

    Government is in a unique position where social media is presenting an opportunity to actually engage with citizens again. But social media is not a synonym for engagement. Citizen engagement is:

    • More than tweeting. Twitter, though a wonderful tool, is still a very shallow form of engagement and the number of user is still limited (though Ashton Kutcher, Oprah, and Larry King may have changed that). There was a recent non-scientific poll on CNN.com asking users to indicate what they thought about Twitter. The results, of the over 17,000 who responded, was that 63% don’t use twitter and 30% wondered what twitter was. Only 7% of the average citizen has used Twitter.
    • More than blogging. Blogging is a great way to communicate information, but it is not the best engagement tool. Though there is potential through the use of comments, when it comes to government blogs citizen comments generally outnumber government responses by more that than ten to one.  Even the best government blogs, for example such as TSA’s Evolution of Security, have a hard time keeping up.  A quick survey of TSA’s EoS five blog posts and associated comments between April 9th and April 21st, 2009 found that only 42 of the 377 comments were responses by the agency.
    • More than an electronic town hall meeting. Though a good start the recent electronic town hall meeting held by President Obama has to be declared a success from a PR perspective and a failure from a citizen engagement perspective. Why? Because the President was only able to respond to a handful of the over 104,.000 questions that came to him.

    Though bringing Web 2.0 experts into government is important, what agencies really need are Citizen Engagement Specialists (CES). My friend and former colleague at Forrester, Bruce Temkin (check out his excellent blog Customer Experience Matters), coined the term Chief Customer Experience Officer (CCEO) to describe someone whose role is responsible for making sure the customer has a great experience and is an who advocates for the customer.  Bruce’s research has shown that for the most part a majority of companies provide a poor customer experience and for those that do provide a good experience, the experience is a significant differentiator.

    So far Bruce has not looked at the customer experience of government, but I would bet that government would be near the bottom. Why? Because there is no one in government who really advocates for the experience of the citizen interacting with the agency. Yes, there are ombudsmen, but they are there only to help when something goes wrong, not to improve the everyday interaction between citizen and government. That is where the role of a CES comes in, focusing on representing the views and needs of the citizen as a customer of government, and then helping the agency actually engage with the citizen.

    What if government were to adopt this idea, what should a Citizen Engagement Specialist focus on? They would focus on

    1. Help the organization research and see the citizen from all sides. One of their first roles should be to help the agency really understand who their primary constituents are. Yes, government agencies have to serve everyone who walks through their door, but that doesn’t mean that they are their primary or even secondary users. This would include helping the agency understand content and functionality desires, channel preferences, previous experiences, how they view the agency, etc. This would also require that the CES develop a deeper level of knowledge and continue to connect with constituents to maintain that understanding.
    2. Experience what the citizen experiences. During a briefing a few years back, I learned about a program at an international telecommunications company that required executives at all levels to spend time in the contact center every month answering customer questions.  I think government executives from the Secretary on down need to adopt this approach. Spend time in contact centers answering citizen calls, applying for aid online, posting questions on an agency blog, etc. Take the time to see how their employees and agency treat constituents.
    3. Representing the perspective of the citizen. Similar to the role a persona plays in a design discussion, the CES would represent the citizen within the agency on questions and issues around engagement. For example, if the agency is designing a new Web site, implementing a blog, developing an employee Twitter policy, constructing a series of online educational videos, developing new scripts for a contact center, or even determining what new functionality or content to add, the CES would represent the role of the citizen.
    4. Build relationships through engagement. This includes a myriad of responsibilities from developing plans and strategies to improve engagement to developing appropriate performance measures to working to remove internal barriers to engagement. For example, the outward facing aspect of this position would be to interact with citizens, their representative interest groups (such as the AARP in the case of the Social Security Administration), and vendors to develop plans and strategies that would improve engagement.  Internally, this may mean working with the agency General Counsel to develop a balanced blogging policy.

    The Bottom Line: Transparency, accountability, and participation are good.  Engagement is better. Move beyond the technology roles of CIO’s and CTO’s to a role that focuses on citizen engagement.