Four Steps to the (Gov 2.0) Epiphany: Better Government Through Citizen Development
I wrote this post to explore a question: how could normal, everyday citizens be as passionate about and engaged with their government as they are with companies like Apple or Google? Here’s what I’ve come up with: government needs a Citizen Development strategy.
A growing trend in the startup and Web 2.0 space is a concept developed by Steve Blank called Customer Development, which essentially is a set of processes and best practices around incorporating user feedback and demand into every step of the product development process. Sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many startups fail to get out of the building and talk to their customers until after they’ve already built most or all of their product. You can read more about Customer Development here and here.
Anyway, we’ve been thinking and blogging a lot at MightyBrand about Customer Development, and I started thinking about government, and how some of the same lessons might be useful to government agencies, so I thought I’d walk through the four steps of Customer Development and how they might be applied by government agencies as a kind of “Citizen Development”.
We’ve seen some really encouraging trends around openness and transparency in government, and that’s exciting. It’s very important that we as citizens get data and information out of the government, but equally important is the idea of getting data and information and feedback into the government, in terms of how we want our tax dollars to be spent, and how the government can be more effective with those dollars.
This raises a question we should address: why should government agencies care about feedback?
The pragmatist reason:
If you do this, you canÂ do more with less.
Government budgets are getting slashed at the same time that citizens expect more from the few dollars that remain. And as more data flows out of government into citizen hands, more scrutiny will be applied to how tax dollars are being used (or misused). Increasingly, citizens are going to demand that their voices are heard, that government projects adhere to best practices, and that every dollar is spent most effectively. This means NOT spending money on large projects and initiatives that there’s not sufficient “market demand” for.
The idealist reason:
It’s the right thing to do. Taking taxpayer money and spending it on expensive boondoggles and pork projects is theft, pure and simple.
So where does the rubber meet the road? How do agencies actually effectively listen to their constituents and incorporate their feedback into management and budgeting priorities? The four steps of customer development are a great place to start (and how they might translate in the context of government):
- Customer Discovery -> Do citizens want this project? Will they pay for it?
- Customer Validation -> What’s the minimum viable product we can launch?
- Customer Creation -> Refining and growing project based on citizen feedback
- Company Building -> Integrating project into larger organizational structure and management team
We’ve seen others talking about some of these ideas and actually doing some very cool things, but what we need is for the government to actively engage with its citizens. We see some small-scale and very encouraging examples (even at the Federal level),Â but is anyone listening on the bigger projects? How is medicare listening to its customers? What about the trillions we’ve spent on bailouts? What about the trillions we’ll spend on the health care plan? Who is listening to us on that?
What specific strategies and techniques can the government use to start engaging in conversations with their citizens and moving the needle towards passionate citizens?
Every day I get to engage with entrepreneurs, public sector innovators and journalists on re-imagining and re-energizing how government works, what it means to be “civic,” and this year has been an incredible one for many friends and colleagues.
I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.
The 18F Delivery team released a “Partnership Playbook” that aims to help federal agencies understand what to expect when working with 18F, and the gem within is play number two, “We work with an empowered product owner.”
Citizens simply glaze over when they are confronted by a sea of large numbers with many zeros. These figures need to be relatable to the person reading the data. Otherwise, open data is just more data that dies on the vine.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a beta version of Vets.gov, and it’s the future of federal government digital development.
The Welsh Government released a report of its findings on how local government in Wales can better leverage digital technologies and realize significant savings while still providing quality, scalable citizen services.
A California bipartisan oversight committee, the Little Hoover Commission, has issued recommendations on how the state can bring a more customer-centric government to residents and visitors.
Seneca Systems CEO Chris Maddox shares the inspiration behind the new constituent relationship management system, Romulus.
“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.
Enabling internal government tech shops to quickly stand up applications in a secure testing environment is fundamental to quick prototyping, and 18F’s new Cloud.gov is a major step in realizing ultimate IT flexibility.