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January 26, 2009

Making government easier to deal with, best practices to save the public time

With coffee in hand this morning at 8 am, I snapped out of my weekend mode quickly as I dialed into a conference call that our PR team had set up. The familiar mechanic voice prompted me for my name. I quickly cleared my throat and stated, “Loni”.

The meeting had already began and I recognized the familiar voice of Adrian from Vangent and Dominic from Southwark Council in the UK crackling over my phone. It was late on a Monday across the ocean and I was grateful that we were on a level playing field; early for me, late for them.

The first time I had met the two gentlemen was in San Francisco, at the Adobe MAX conference. We all had a good chuckle over the fact that Dominic couldn’t walk two blocks in San Francisco without giving money to a homeless soul, such the heart of a public servant.

My thoughts about our first in-person meeting were chased away by some factoids that both gentlemen were sharing about the Vangent OneTouch solution which was implemented at Southwark Borough (region) to handle incoming calls and visits from citizens for services.

Dominic managed a team of customer service reps whose job and passion was helping the citizens of Southwark get much needed services such as housing benefits. Sure, he was interested in efficiency. Yet, more importantly, like many who get into public services, he wanted to make access easier.

But how?

Firstly, they tried to understand the journey of a citizen in seeking services. The technology was seen as merely the means to support the process. Instead of just looking at a particular transaction, they looked at the “why” of a citizen request.

All of a sudden, a citizen call to register property taxes was not seen as merely a transaction. No, it was diagnosed as a “new resident” event and the citizen was also asked if they needed school grants, parking permits, library cards, garbage service, and change of address.

Magically, what could have resulted in tallying of many minutes wasted on the phone became one. The agency was happy because it costs less to deal with fewer calls. Happily, the citizen reduced their time spent getting required services.

Secondly, common information across all the applications for services are collected only once. How wonderful is it to only be prompted for your name once for a multitude of services?

Thirdly, by collecting the information electronically, the approval process speed up and what was on average a 26 day wait period for services became 6 days.

After the conference call emptied, I reflected on the call. I realized I could share with you some bulleted list of best practices, cold and crisp. Or, I could try to share with you some of the ways a borough in Harry Potter’s hometown decided to weave some magic and make it easier for their citizens to get the services they need.

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