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Improving the Experience of Civic Participation

  • Posted by Elyse Berkowitz - SEPTEMBER 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

While businesses have quickly jumped to reach consumers in a customized and personalized way online, government has been slower to adopt this model. Yet, by joining the online community, government offices can help citizens better access, engage, interact with, and share public information. The internet helps us take action and make decisions that are more informed, social and sharable than ever before by creating a more personal experience for users, helping us to better participate in our democracy.

So, how can government do a better job of reaching out to citizens and creating an experience tailored to their needs?

Last month, OSTP CTO Aneesh Chopra and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein issued a joint call for public feedback on making more useful in public rulemaking, making federal websites more user-friendly, and encouraging the use of “democratized data.” They reiterated this appeal for feedback as they develop the US Open Government Plan in a post last weekon the White House blog. Asking this question of the public and requesting public input is a huge step towards building the framework for a more participatory and engaged public.

ExpertLabs’ Director of Engagement Clay Johnson responded to this inquiry, pointing to the need for government to improve the way it interacts with citizens through social media and developers through open source communities built around specific datasets. By integrating these strategies in regulatory rulemaking and data processing, Johnson argues that government can begin to “be open to engagement on the terms that citizens are used to in the venues they’re accustomed to.”

Companies have only recently taken user experience, or UX, into account when developing strategies to reach consumers. While it is a relatively new field focusing on individual perception, response, and usability, it is a field that, when coupled with new technologies and innovative thinking, is transforming the way in which the public interacts with and perceives both the public and private sectors.

Improving the experience for end-users is the next step in advancing the way government serves and engages the public. While suggestions from Johnson and others are useful, there aren’t necessarily well-defined best practices for government agencies. UX Magazine’s Cyd Harrell argues that user experience design needs to be a greater focus of government offices. She takes a look at the potential of a design based on respect, participation, and unity, explaining that “it’s hard to imagine an area that offers as broad a reach as citizen experience, or that is as desperately in need of improvement.”

Federal and (some) city governments are beginning to answer to this call through app competitions and open online data repositories like, however the need is great at the local level. Local information is often more salient and actionable for individual citizens. It is also often the most difficult to find.

The online social experience is changing and improving the citizen experience by bringing information directly to individuals and providing opportunities to create a more personalized experience through interaction and dialogue. At the local level, online social interactions and information sharing with citizens can also help to save time and resources by leveraging the talent and hyper-local expertise of area residents to improve their communities.

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