The Federal Government’s Next Moonshot: Getting Everyday Digital Moments Right

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Federal agencies have the opportunity to be a dependable force for good.

Digital transformation often seems like a daunting task or, frankly, an impossible undertaking. Questions quickly arise, including: Where do you start? How are systems actually replaced? Who pays for it? Despite this, digital transformation offers an unprecedented opportunity for federal agencies to serve citizens and be more dependable forces for the common good.

ICF recently surveyed federal employees to visualize where America’s public sector stands en route to digital transformation. We found that ninety-seven percent of surveyed federal employees believe government agencies now have a greater responsibility than ever to provide the digital tools that will make a positive difference in citizens’ lives. Further, more than one-third of those surveyed believe that identifying the most effective means of engaging citizens is the biggest barrier their agency encounters.

While the IT and technology needs of specific agencies differ, leaders across the public sector must take a strategic and coordinated approach to achieving digital transformation for the benefit of people that rely on government services. To start, federal agencies should:

Think beyond technology procurement to advance innovation. Government leaders can accomplish this in a way that fits specific agency and department needs by encouraging new ideas. In order to do so successfully, senior government leaders need to conduct the necessary due diligence to procure platforms tailored to their specific needs. They should also focus on putting the right support staffs together to see the process through.

Look to technology as a means to modernizing operations, rather than allowing digital innovation to define change. Tech should play a supporting role in driving digital transformation—complementing analog efforts to boost productivity, efficiency and process overhaul. Agencies should look at technology as a means to an end—the end, in this case, being efficient digital services that serve the American citizenry. Tactically, this means spending more time on improving technology usability, as opposed to developing the technology itself. While 92 percent of the federal employees we surveyed agree it’s necessary for agencies to operate this way in theory, 80 percent agree that their agency would prioritize perfecting the technology over the citizen experience in practice.

Integrate data analytics to enhance citizen-centered design and draw from real-time citizen feedback loops to evaluate ongoing progress in meeting identified needs. There is a nearly universal agreement among government employees that citizen services need modernization and digitization. However, only 17 percent of surveyed government officials believe getting user experience right is a top priority. This dichotomy provides a glimpse of why in-progress digital transformation efforts have met with mixed results.

Build interdisciplinary project teams with targeted project plans by involving key stakeholders across departments and using data analysis and visualization techniques to get everyone on board. Work with HR staffs to determine project needs and future recruitment efforts, and rally managers and staffs around the idea of making user adoption a primary goal toward creating great moments that lead to lasting change. With each step of the project, carve out time for evaluation and provide feedback in a way that employees—from department heads to call center staff—can understand results.

Federal agencies across the spectrum of government need to regularly evaluate how public sector staffs, technologies, processes and citizen outreach programs perform—and plan for adjustments based on the results. Federal leaders need to keep people in the center of every process that leads to citizen engagement through the use of technology. Ultimately, they need to maintain a citizen-focused approach to digital transformation no matter how complex the tech is driving it – and how tempting the budget cuts might be to take them out of it.

Kris Tremaine is a senior vice president at ICF, leading the firm's federal digital, communications, and human capital practice.