Federal agencies have been working diligently to improve citizen customer service and meet expectations set by both the federal administration and citizens themselves. In previous columns, I've described the different steps organizations take to improve the citizen journey across all parts of their agency, including understanding, optimization, integration and transformation. The final step in improving the citizen journey is connection, or cross-agency collaboration.
What does cross-agency collaboration look like? On the surface, for citizens, collaboration can mean getting the same answer to the same question, even when contacting two different agencies.
If you consider the ways government agencies are intertwined in the way they serve citizens, the need for this interagency connection becomes clear. For example: the implementation of the Affordable Care Act created tax implications for citizens. No matter if citizens contact representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the IRS with questions, they should get the same response to the same question. In its purest, citizen-facing sense, that's connection.
Similarly, the Social Security Administration, in its Open Data initiative, is sharing its data sets while safeguarding personal information. Recent data sets updated include information about how many people needed extra help with the HHS-run Medicare prescription drug plan. The connection between these two federal agencies will hopefully lead to mutually beneficial insight that will ultimately help the citizens that both agencies serve.
Connection, then, is about proactively reaching out to other agencies to ensure consistency, to share information and to provide a seamless experience for citizens. Achieving that connection among agencies is one of the most difficult parts of improving citizen experiences.
Further complicating matters, much agency work is completed through contractors, all of whom have their own approaches to executing specific jobs. Interoperability among contractor-run systems doesn't factor into most contracts written for government work. However, if agencies begin to write interoperability requirements into RFPs, contractors will have to start providing services that foster connections among agencies. To improve the citizen experience, procurement specialists need to include requirements for connection and system interoperability into their solicitations.
Beyond coordinating within their own organization, government agencies must pinpoint where they provide overlapping services with another agency. Communication, coordination and collaboration between those groups becomes absolutely vital to a positive citizen experience. Here are some additional steps agency leaders can take to foster connections among other agencies:
- Become a proactive leader. In addition to identifying and solving critical issues, proactive leaders listen and understand. That might feel passive and reactive, but it is actually very proactive. They ask questions to help connect their agency to others that serve the same citizens, such as "Which other agency might need to be involved in making this decision?" and "How will this decision impact another agency?" Proactive agency leaders who value interagency connection realize that "active" doesn't mean "immediate." Connection won't happen in six months; it's a long-term journey.
- Find helpful contacts. Figuring out whom to contact to make connections can be difficult. Groups such as the American Council for Technology (ACT) — Industry Advisory Council (IAC) can help create initial connections among agencies by creating networks with which to build relationships. Additionally, the General Services Administration (GSA) is providing leadership and setting the tone for other agencies. It saw the need for more effective customer service in government before other agencies and is leading the conversation by providing examples of connection and creating playbooks.
- Share data. The designers, developers and product specialists who comprise 18F within the GSA are working to develop MyUSA, a digital data warehouse for citizens. MyUSA will merge data from the GSA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor, improving citizen experience with these agencies. This type of collaborative data warehouse is one example of connected data and relationships forming among federal agencies for improved citizen experience.
Connection, then, is the final and most challenging part of the citizen journey. It happens with the realization that there is one government serving the people – not just individual agencies. This broader thinking will lead to empowerment of service employees and new, better connected technology and processes. This connection, while difficult to achieve, can have the most positive impact on the citizen experience and citizens' attitude toward government.
Abby Herriman is senior vice president of delivery and innovation at HighPoint Global.