THE BLOG
04/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Building Good Citizen Service/Customer Service

At the Sunlight Foundation Transparency camp, on TechPresident.com, GovLoop.com, and elsewhere, I've heard from a lot of Federal tech people who are ready to better serve the public.

Here's what I feel is a consensus, that what's needed is technology that:
  • people want to use
  • people will use
  • is simple
  • involves honest dialog
  • changes in response to that dialog

(The last encourages a "culture of participation" and the "consent of the governed.")

Here're some specifics from that consensus:

Look at things from the citizen's perspective (why is it needed? does the citizen want it? does it help the citizen more easily conduct their business with government (top task) and/or interact with government in ways they want to? will they use it?) Make it simple for the public to use. Don't overcomplicate it. Simple interface. No governmentese language.

There is a tendency to overcomplicate IT projects in the federal government. Rapid application development needs to be the norm....government should begin to think in terms of WEEKS, not MONTHS AND YEARS Government should look at open source Government should look at free
(or almost free) products instead of the MILLIONS currently spending

Now, for your amusement, replace "citizen" with "citizen/customer" and "government" for "government/company". The deal is that government provides a collection of services, sometimes goods, to citizens; companies provides a collection of services or goods to customers. It's not quite the same, since government often has a monopoly in certain areas, is tax-supported, and in a democracy, must be transparent in its operations.

In this context, however, governmental or private groups provides services and should do that well. Web technology can provide service that:
  • people want to use
  • people will use
  • is simple
  • involves honest dialog
  • changes in response to that dialog

Maybe this is something that should be obvious, but the big challenge will be overcoming the bureaucratic inertia of any organization. People are catching the "new media" thing, scrambling in a lot of cases, and that might help.

Ironically, those service principles are how craigslist works, phrased differently. (I should listen to myself, maybe once in a while.) Maybe when someone talks about "a craigslist for (whatever)", that's what they mean.