Fair service delivery is at the heart of today’s government’s mission, and executive orders encourage a holistic assessment of the agency’s practices, programs, and policies. Federal government leaders are committed to providing value to all people when they need it most, but they also recognize that this path requires new approaches and mechanisms to achieve sustainable change.
Looking ahead, progress in equity cannot be measured by traditional indicators of program performance, such as whether a target budget has been spent or a set of objectives has been met in a timely manner. Traditional program benefits tend to create value for the population, but can inadvertently exacerbate problems for other, more underserved communities. For example, updating websites and mobile phones can improve certain user experience (CX) performance while leaving people with limited broadband or device access.
Then the agencies ask difficult questions: How can we create and refine solutions to provide the greatest value to most people, including those not historically served?
Achieving the broad goals of the Biden administration’s justice requires the powers of the federal workforce, which can disrupt patterns of behavior and improve service delivery in a continuous cycle. And this requires gateposts, which by their nature are ambitious, and a culture that uses both “hits” and “misses”. In many ways it starts with understanding the product.
Achieve results through product focus
Private sector companies often focus their services on a specific customer segment, but agencies cannot take a narrow view – and it is very difficult to create solutions that are tailored to all people. However, changes in service development are needed; the global pandemic has stressed that the government cannot run its business normally.
It is encouraging that we are beginning to see that federal organizations are adopting what is called a product thinking. Let’s explain this concept.
It is customary to manage progress in both the public and private sectors projects – Initiatives that have start and end dates focus on producing something (such as a tool or service) and measure success by whether milestones and budgets have been violated. Often this approach is satisfactory and appropriate to the way contracts or programs are funded.
The mood for the product, however, flips the scenario. Instead of development teams tasked with creating solutions and then moving on to the next project, interdisciplinary and long-standing product teams are created that:
- Build a deep understanding of your customers’ needs and emotions and gain an understanding of the real barriers to access
- Quickly create solutions that can be tested and discussed with customers to determine their ability to make a lasting impact – balancing the need for immediate help and support
- Create a virtuous cycle of customer engagement, prototyping and product innovation
Over time and with experience, product teams become in-depth experts on the customers they support, as well as on the mission and services they represent. Then they are more able to create target value and more inclusive and equitable services. This heightened sense of agility and ability to continually improve rather than simply introduce new ways of serving people and communities helps us move closer to a vision of the future: where at every stage from birth a person has easy access to the services he or she claims.
I go directly to the Source
In a previous article, our colleagues talked about the limitations of customer experience data and that traditional feedback mechanisms take into account only a small portion of the public. Surveys and focus groups tend to miss populations that do not have access to these services at all, due to issues such as digital literacy, language barriers or simply a lack of time to navigate a complex system.
Focusing on the dynamic needs, challenges and prospects of users requires new powers and a skilled workforce. Businesses like Target and Amazon have toolkits, organizational structures, and teams to evaluate performance and improve products, as well as multiple channels for customers to provide feedback. While the federal government needs to consider more meaningful and complex mission objectives, there are things we can learn from the private sector and how customers are involved in the process.
When creating a product to improve equity and access, it is important to interact quickly with real people who access services, rather than simply reading or interpreting metadata, and evaluating how they receive and experience them in real time. Going directly to the source and in the field to understand unique perspectives and important differences in communities, helps to create a richer set of considerations for shaping continuous improvement and decision-making on technical assistance.
At first this may seem simple, but interacting with customers often requires scaling down to see a larger network of stakeholders. We witnessed this in action when we helped a major federal agency – the Center for Health Services and Health Services (CMS) – understand the various inequalities and prospects of their beneficiaries and reduce long-standing burdens and barriers to access. Working with a wide range of stakeholders and populations – from patients, families and carers to data providers, institutions and providers – could create a rich and multi-layered set of needs to be addressed. Thanks to the ability to attract customers ecosystemthe organization continues to eliminate the burden for all, promote compatibility and identify opportunities that help providers spend more time with their patients.
An idea of the future of the stock market
While rapid detection often begins in individual organizations and programs, sustained progress toward equitable service delivery needs to be addressed at the interagency level.
Thanks to the leadership of the Office of Management and Budget the government is already taking important steps towards improving equity between departments and interconnected experiences. We are also witnessing the emergence of models such as the CX Center of Excellence for the General Service Administration and the Office of Veterans Experience, which create new value by focusing innovation on customer needs, centralizing best practices and encouraging collaboration between agencies and the private sector.
To promote equity on a future scale, mature product organizations can help make extensive progress beyond a single program to maximize results for more people and more communities.
Imagine opportunities if there was a market for tested customer products that agencies could access, integrate, and develop to meet specific requirements. This vision is not far off, and the concept of “government as a platform” is already changing product development and delivery in key mission areas. With examples like Healthcare.gov and the Biden administration’s move to USA.gov, we’re in a great position to start thinking about capital through a similar lens and create a reusable repository for services and products on the platform.
We know that no single technology or integrated solution can close complex service gaps for the population. But because we represent ways to bridge these gaps, human-centered product development allows the government to continually improve so that we can better support individuals, families, and communities at important times. New innovations and partnerships will require ambitious gates. But in this context, it is better to miss the desired goal, know why it was missed, and constantly improve than to change or lower the gate post along the way.
In this series, “Rhenium as a National Priority: An Interagency Perspective” Buz Allen discusses the promotion of justice in the federal state programs – offering perspectives for a structure that prioritizes fair and inclusive service delivery to the public.