Inside the USAJobs Revamp and Other Digital Summit Highlights

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Successful programs tended to come at problems from a user-centric point of view.

Government technology projects usually get headlines when things go wrong or get expensive.

Examples abound: The botched initial rollout of HealthCare.gov or the Department of Veterans Affairs' disability claims backlog.

On the contrary, programs that function well tend to get little recognition, though they deserve it.

Held Thursday, the DigitalGov Citizen Services Summit showcased a few of those programs. I’ll highlight a few of the cool ones below, but it was clear that successful programs tended to come at problems from a user-centric point of view. In other words, if your users or customers -- whether they be internal or external stakeholders -- aren’t happy, you’re losing the battle.

The Antithesis of HealthCare.gov?

Perhaps the most promising example of the government’s newfound approach to technology programs was highlighted by Stephanie Wade, director of the Office of Personnel Management’s Innovation Lab.  

The lab is helping relaunch the USAJobs website, which served 187 million people last year who conducted some 1 billion job searches. As OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in January, changes to the site are “a long time coming,” so the re-launch on its own is not surprising. What is though is the agile scrum development going on in the backend of the USAJobs site, Wade said.

Instead of one massive relaunch, Wade said USAJobs will make piece-by-piece updates over a series of rollouts.

“We don’t want to wait until everything is perfect; we want to try to make it better incrementally,” Wade said.

This iterative process, she said, allows designers to implement changes based on data collected by OPM, with an emphasis on data from a series of in-person interviews on actual users. User insights, Wade said, will help drive the iterative design of USAJobs. Wade added that the agile mentality is more cost effective than a singular rollout.

Also of significant importance, a series of small, incremental rollouts seems far less likely to fail than a single, large relaunch.

Digital #Winning

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is not going to win a game of who’s-who among federal agencies. Yet, it provides the vital, congressionally mandated service of protecting defined-benefit pensions, directly affecting some 44 million Americans. When those pension-holding folks have questions, the PBGC homepage is a likely destination, and luckily surfers aren’t stifled with a smorgasbord of random information when they arrive.

“The content on the front page is driven by what users are searching for, not what we think they’ll want,” said Anne Henderson, PBGC’s new media and Web content manager.

PBGC uses analytics and other kinds of information, like surveys, to ensure its front page fits the needs of the largest number of users possible.

Analytics came up a lot Thursday, and that’s not surprising. As technology improves and data storage cheapens, agencies and other organizations are collecting and making more use of data about people, places and things.

Sam Bronson, the digital analytics manager for the Department of Health and Human Services, said HHS is using “advanced analytics” to push traffic to HealthCare.gov. The agency, he said, is collecting metadata like the length and tone of messages to analyze how they affect the campaign.

‎Dr. David Cooper, a psychologist and the mobile applications program lead at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, added that “a little mobile analytics goes a long way.”

Collecting data about what your mobile applications are doing, not just a total number of downloads, can help an organization get a better feel for the services its users want.