Five Ways To Build Better Government With Citizen Feedback

Stephanie Thum, CCXP

If you’re part of a government agency, then you probably know it’s important to collect citizen feedback on the services your agency offers. But have you ever thought about all the ways and places you could do it? Just as importantly, do you know how to “close the loop” with citizens, residents, and visitors after they give you feedback? No matter if you call it citizen feedback, resident feedback, user feedback, or something else, there are multiple ways to think about collecting the data and closing the loop.

First, let’s look at some places and ways to collect feedback.

1. Online panels

Online panels, also sometimes referred to as “research panels,” are growing in popularity as a way for local governments to collect resident and citizen feedback about topics that matter to their communities. One big plus of panels: they modernize and digitize the collection of citizen feedback beyond traditional, in-person town hall meetings. With an online panel, citizens “opt in” to receiving periodic surveys about events, zoning, real estate, local policies, public services, or other important local issues. Government officials use the feedback to help make decisions.

Dublin, Ireland’s “Your Dublin, Your Voice” is one example. More than 3,500 locals have signed up to receive surveys from Dublin City Council up to four times a year on a variety of topics like local arts, entertainment, retail, civic engagement, community, and public services. Feedback and suggestions cultivated from panel participants help the city officials and councilors prioritize decisions that ripple to citizens.

The City of Provo, Utah, also uses online panels. Doing so has opened the city’s feedback channels to a broader range of citizens and residents. In the past, typically only those with strong enough feelings to show up to a city council meeting, send an email, or call had their voices heard. Now, with the city’s online panel, more citizens can engage, city officials have more data, and agencies can better identify the issues that matter most to residents.

2. Website feedback

Collecting website feedback has never been more important. Federal, state, and local governments are putting more information, forms, data, and service updates online than ever before. The whole purpose of doing so is to provide citizens easier access to services while improving operational efficiencies for government. To get that win-win scenario, agencies have to understand how citizens perceive digital offerings: Are they simple to use and navigate? Is the process of engaging efficient? Transparent? What is the outcome for the citizen?

The good news is website feedback mechanisms have come a long way. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) and Healthcare.gov are two U.S. federal government agencies that are collecting real-time website user feedback. NLM uses site intercept to ask if content was helpful. Real-time, dynamic feedback goes to content teams on the agency side. The NLM team then triages issues and uses text analysis to analyze open text remarks. The end goal is to understand the citizen or user’s digital journey and, in response, make their websites easier to use. Healthcare.gov, on almost every page of its website, gives users the opportunity to say whether or not the content on that page was helpful, indicate why it was or wasn’t, and suggest improvements. By implementing site changes based on this feedback, Healthcare.gov reduced the average time to enroll for healthcare by 13%.

3. Text message (SMS) feedback

SMS can be a good option for collecting feedback if your government agency has access and permission to contact citizens via mobile text messaging.

4. Kiosk feedback

Kiosk feedback can catch citizens “in the moment,” for example, as they’re leaving a government agency field service office. Questions asked on a standalone iPad positioned near the exit can ask for quick feedback on ease of access, helpfulness of staff, and whether or not citizens accomplished what they set out to do when they visited the field office. Kiosks are a quick method for capturing instant citizen feedback that can be used to intercept a potentially negative individual encounter and turn it around. Pair that feedback in aggregate with operational data, like how long visits take and how engaged employees are in that office, and you have a powerful starting point for improving the journey for every visitor.

5. Mobile apps

Given the growing pervasiveness of mobile devices around the world, it makes sense that governments would offer citizens and residents access to government services and information via a mobile app. It also makes sense that governments would collect feedback from citizens while they’re using the app via a simple, in-app survey or by asking them to leave a review of the app in the app store.

Bonus! Mission-oriented feedback

Here’s one more way to think about collecting citizen feedback. Agency employees are usually citizens or residents, too. So, if you’re thinking of your own employees as potential sources of citizen feedback, you’re not off-base. Fraser Health Authority, a public sector organization in British Columbia, gathers perceptions from 3,000+ internal staff in order to monitor, evaluate, and track program successes as they relate to advancing energy and environmental sustainability in healthcare. Employees and volunteers share feedback on the strengths, opportunities, and challenges in Fraser’s sustainability efforts. Other surveys and follow-on analyses measure the effectiveness of environmental projects both before and after. Those results are incorporated into future change initiatives.

Finally, close the loop

Collecting feedback on its own won’t make you successful. Acting on feedback and then communicating the actions you’ve taken based on that feedback will. That may mean individual responses to citizens via email or a phone call, presenting your action plans on a webinar or in a town hall meeting, sharing a video message from your agency’s leader on social media, or publicizing what you’ve done in the opening pages of an annual performance report. In a future post, we’ll share some more ideas on how your agency can close the loop with citizens.

Thanks to Ashley Robinson for contributing to this piece.

This blog originally appeared on Qualtrics.com.


About Stephanie Thum, CCXP

Stephanie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) who got her start in the customer experience profession working with the Big Four accounting firm of EY. She eventually became one of the U.S. federal government's first agency-level heads of customer experience. Her background also includes work on SAP's Catalyst team, where she counseled SAP's small and mid-sized audiences on security and CX, digital transformation, and modern-day voice of the customer practices via videos, blogs, and podcasts. Currently, Stephanie is a subject matter expert and Chief Advisor for Federal Customer Experience for Qualtrics. She is a published writer, panelist, facilitator, presenter, and speaker.