I’ve been writing a lot about social media these days if you haven’t noticed.
It isn’t because I’m fascinated with the actual tools, many of them will have disappeared in the next couple of years. Rather, it is one of the most poignant examples of the incredible participation rates that great user design can induce. The possibilities of how this can transform government and key public issues have me mesmerized.
A couple of weeks ago, I presented at a seminar on the topic of “Transforming Citizen Interactions with Lessons from Social Media”.
If you weren’t able to make it out, have no fear, you can watch the video above and download a copy of the presentation here.
This particular version of the presentation has some innovative examples from US agencies. I have another version of this presentation with more international examples which I will also share in another post.
P.S. Thanks Heather for holding the video camera for the entire time.
As much as the social media is exciting on the technology front, I think the real impact it has is shifting the way we all think about technology from green screens to an enabler of the interactions we have with family, friends, co-workers and customers. Social media has shown that technology can be the foundation of friendly and easy-to-use applications that allows us to share ideas and information beyond the limitations of time and geographic locations.
The most important point I was trying to raise in this discussion is that although the new social media tools are very exciting, the real opportunity for government agencies is to take the lessons learned from social media and apply them to the core processes in government.
What does it matter if an agency has a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page if it is still hard for its citizens to find critical programs and enroll in them? How do we make enrolling in benefits as easy as it is these days to create and share a video on YouTube?
A case in point is a recent 60 Minutes profile of Veterans Affairs. According to the investigation, the form for applying for benefits is 23 pages long, on average 6 months to get an initial response, and the amount of paperwork generated in a case can span from one to several file-size boxes. How can lessons in social media help to transform this? I would imagine a veteran would hardly care about the VA having a Facebook fan page. Rather, they would want to see easier ways to interact with the VA that was directed to helping them receive eligible benefits faster.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the specific issues highlighted in the 60 Minutes coverage of the benefits backlog at Veteran Affairs. I’ll provide my perspective on how some of these issues may be improved with the pragmatic application of technology and the belief that our veterans deserve better.
Often times, there is this misconception that greater efficiency somehow comes at the cost of quality of service. In this case, the City of San Antonio has shown that through innovations of eWarrants and smart forms, they were able to accomplish both.
Hugh Miller, CTO of the City of San Antonio, took on the challenge to find ways his team could deliver IT innovations that would not only deliver efficiencies, but helped the city better serve its population.
Like many other agencies I’ve worked with, one key area identified was the transformation of thousands of paper forms to electronic smart forms. By reducing the time front-line staff spent manually duplicating information from paper forms to back-end systems, these individuals were able to spend more time doing their primary job instead of being paper pushers.
One innovation discussed in this video is are eWarrants. The task of filling out a warrant was reduced from 2 hours to about 15 minutes as noted by William P. McManus, Chief of Police, San Antonio Police Department.
One of the key questions I get during and after my presentations on using technology to deliver benefits and services more efficiently is, “How easy is it?”
Aside from the obvious answer of the need to really start with the analysis of your agency’s processes so that you have insight into where and when technology makes sense, there is also something that can be done in the short-term.
I have yet to meet a governemnt process involving paper forms and documents which didn’t benefit significantly by conversion to smart electronic forms which can still be printed, but which allow for agencies to encourage people to submit electronically in much the same way Amazon and eBay have convinced us to buy online.
This latter, “low-hanging fruit” is not at the demise of a long-term strategy. In fact, I have often seen it be the catalyst for inspiring even greater leaps into improved services and efficiency with IT.
Firstly, look for paper forms that:
Are important and use by a lot of people
Are often submitted with missing, illegible or wrong information
Require a lot of staff time and energy to process in the mail centers and in manual data re-entry into back-end systems
A new case study has just been published on the use of electronic forms and processes for improving the cancer screening process of Australian citizens.
This case is interesting because the Department of Health and Ageing solution actually uses the shared-services platform provided by the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (ADIISR) available to all federal agencies and built using Adobe LiveCycle ES. Because of this shared-service infrastructure, the Department of Health and Ageing was able to get their solution rolled out quicker and more cost-efficiently.
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
Australian health agency improves cancer screening process, completeness of medical records, and realizes 923% ROI over three years using Adobe LiveCycle ES solutions. You can access the case study here.
Today, as I catch up on the emails flooding my inbox, I came across an email that I wanted to share and which I thought was quite timely given my recent entry on court case management (Court Case Managment: Beyond the wasted paper).
Amidst the salutations that usually arrive in an email, the key statement that stood out was:
“Ontario Supreme Court Justice The Honorable Patrick J Lesage and University Professor Michael Code have released a report to the public on major case management in the province of Ontario. This report ‘SPECIFICALLY’ names Adobe on no less than 5 separate occasions as the standard for electronic disclosure across the province. The report also recommends the province adopt Acrobat for case management for policing, crown attorneys and the legal community at large.”
Adobe PDF and Acrobat are already widely used in Ontario to address the real challenges of accurately and efficiently collecting and collaborating on documents and evidence for a given investigation.
The venue was larger than I had imagined or expected. The three speakers from the previous session had just finished and were exiting the stage. I clipped on my microphone which would project my voice to the far corners of the room and faced an audience of judges, lawyers and court managers.
I had spent the last couple of days reviewing my presentation, figuring out the best way to make the point that courtroom paper was not just an environmental issue, but it also impacts data accuracy and analysis, staff productivity, and time-to-decision.
I flashed up a slide.
Arkansas Appellate Judge Wendell Griffin (Louanne Parker v. John Matthew Parker)
Appellant’s brief consists of 4 volumes, including a 277-page abstract and a 684-page addendum
The appellate record in this case was 10 volumes, totaling 1959 pages. Appellant submitted a 980-page brief. Appellee’s brief, which included an unnecessary supplemental addendum, numbered 174 pages. Appellant filed an 18 -page reply brief.
20 copies of the briefs required (17 for filing with the clerk, 1 for opposing counsel, 1 for the circuit court, and 1 for that party)
Then the briefs and record on appeal consisted of 25,399 pieces of paper.
According to an environmental company based in San Francisco, California, one tree makes 16.67 reams (one ream = 500 sheets) of paper. Conservatree, How much paper can be made from a tree? (last assessed Jan. 18, 2007). Based on these calculations, the paper filed by the parties on this appeal alone has consumed almost 3 trees.
I had the priviledge to speak at the first annual FPPOA – National IT Conference & Expo yesterday in Universal City. They had very good attendence and the atmosphere was brimming with interest on a topic I am passionate about, the use of technology to transform how we do things.
Even now, as I peck at the keyboard, I know that once I click on the “publish” button, you will have the opportunity almost instantly to read my ramblings. I still remember the days when I would put printed articles ready to be laid out through a waxing process and roll it onto a large newsprint template and wait half a day until the story was printed and delivered.
Information used to, and still travels on paper. Words and photos are gently laid down on bleached, pressed wood pulp. When we want to archive these words of wisdom, much of it is still stored as paper filling large rooms in dark building basements and other scary places.
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.