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How to successfully transform citizen services

We are in a conference room listening to a recorded call. Marie is on the phone with an agency employee who stands between her and her ability to feed her family. 

She needs her unemployment check, and had been getting a busy signal for a week.  Even though she waited over 120 minutes hours she is thrilled to be getting help. 

Problem is she has waited 2 hours in the “wrong” line, the sub department that can help is about 20 minutes away by car but the wait time is another 120 minutes, against her wishes she is transferred to somewhere.

 This cycle repeats over and over. The problems with citizen services are complicated and there are no easy answers but we have learned after working with multiple agencies in multiple states is instructive in solving the problem.

1) Problem definition

As I often do, I asked everyone we interacted with at the agency to articulate the problem. There is  usually broad agreement on what is happening. However, you will hear dozens of explanations on why Marie can not get her unemployment check. This leads to multiple solutions being created claiming to solve the same problem.  Since the problem definition is incorrect, most of the initiatives end up being wasted creating a viscous cycle of issue-misdiagnosis-wrong solution-issue. 

What is needed is detailed assessments of the status-quo, that articulates the what and the why, this allows the solution to have higher odds of success.

2) Measure Twice, Cut once

There is pressure in governmental agencies to make improvements, the cycle goes like this, new administration comes in promising reform. They want to show progress and demand changes, the IT organization rolls out “best in class technology” that almost always fails because they are not well thought out. There is promise of change – lack of strategy- failed projects-promise of change. Rinse and repeat.  Without a more thoughtful strategy and process re-engineering this cycle will continue infinitum. 

We see agencies succeed when they take a strategic approach, doing journey maps, understanding the customer pain points, and employee pain points. Then focusing on foundational items first before moving to more complex projects.

3) Comprehensive Change Management

The reason Marie and others can not get help is in part because of decades of agency focused thinking, as opposed to citizen focused thinking. Consider the fact that Marie has to give the unemployment office all of her information, even though the department of public safety has it as well as 8 other agencies. In Marie’s eyes it is one government and the agencies should communicate. Citizen services is still managed in an agency focused way instead of citizen focused. To turn this around comprehensive change management must permeate every corner of Government services.

Focusing on these 3 issues is how we can have a chance at success in improving citizen services