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Part 2 of the Open Government Series: Do You Want to See More Federal Services Online?

March 19, 2016

Today’s post is the second in our Open Government series. As we discussed in Part 1, open government principals advocate transparency and accountability in government, and seek to improve service and trust be enabling better interaction between government and the public. In that post, we explored examples of improved government service, cost savings and freer flow of information. All of this would seem to be win-win, so it is a “no brainer” that everyone should be bought in, right? Not so fast.

This todaysnote post will discuss a post with an entirely different take. Risk Parrish, a Forrester analyst focusing on federal government customer experience topics, published “The Public Is Still Skeptical of Federal Digital Customer Experience.” This piece explores public attitudes about digital government in the United States, and it reports some surprising news. Parrish has been studying trends in public receptiveness to digital government for several years, and his post explains that Americans have very mixed feelings on the subject. The most surprising finding may have been this:

Even fewer customers want digital interactions with federal agencies. That’s right —39% of federal customers said they want Washington to focus on offering more digital services, a 2% decline from 2014.

Barely a third of Americans want to see more federal government services online. In this day of iPhones, mobile apps, ubiquitous social media, text alerts and Web based…everything…Americans largely do not want more federal services to leverage these technologies. Perhaps we Americans are reluctant to trust the Feds with our data in light of the alarming number of federal security breaches that have emerged in recent months. This distrust, coupled with paranoia about government monitoring of cellular communications is likely a factor in public attitudes, which are further illustrated by this fact from Parrish’s study: “Fewer than a third of Americans wanted federal mobile apps that tailor safety alerts and other government information to the user’s location.

Parrish’s seems to agree that security is a key factor in this distrust, and he advocates that federal officials focus on striking a balance between security and service:

One tactic that I’ve written about extensively is protecting digital CX from overbearing security practices. In the wake of so many high-profile hacks of federal systems, it’s good that agencies are focused on cybersecurity. But high security is at best a pyrrhic victory if it makes digital channels more confusing or difficult to use. Luckily, security and CX don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I have not read any of Parrish’s extensive writing about “protecting digital CX from overbearing security” requirements, so I can’t comment on this aspect of the discussion. In light of the distressing the pattern of security failures in federal government agencies, the argument that federal services suffer from too much security struggles to convince. But Parrish’s last observation, “security and CX don’t have to be mutually exclusive” speaks loudest on this topic. Finding this careful balance between accessing and using information, and securing it, with powerful user or customer experience is a task not only for the federal government, but for application and service designers everywhere.

Security concerns aside, there seems to be much work to do to earn public trust and energize the vision of digital government. As the rewards of open, digitally enabled, government services and information are great, stakeholders at the federal and state level, and in the private sector should be working hard to realize those rewards.

Rick Parrish can be found on twitter at @RickParrishGCX. His blog post, which todaysnote reviewed in this piece, is a summary of a paid report, bearing the same name as the post, which I have not read but which can be purchased for $499 at Forrester. Parrish’s coverage of this topic is quite good, and I recommend his blog and twitter feed for anyone interested in Open or Digital Government.

What did you think of Parrish’s post? Do you want to see more federal services in digital form? Or is security too big a concern for you? Please leave your thoughts in the comment area below.

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