NC digital communicators gather for We Are NC Gov

Monday, May 14, 2018

Nikhil Deshpande, chief digital officer for Georgia and the event’s keynote speaker, reminded more than 100 of the state’s digital communicators, web designers and marketing specialists that one of the key goals of digital communications in state government is service to the citizen.

Deshpande was the keynote speaker for We Are NC Gov, a May 4 conference organized by NC DIT’s Digital Solutions.

While the basic premise of citizen service is likely known and accepted by professional communicators in the state, Deshpande said that too often citizens searching for information on government websites around the country are finding messages, brands and cultures that are inconsistent.

And yet, consistency “is the first key element when it comes to building trust.”

Deshpande said communicators must do their best to make citizen experience as frictionless and as fulfilling as possible. This means that communicators must structure content to be consistent and accessible through all available channels, even as those channels have shifted from telephone to websites, and now to new digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant.

Indeed, Deshpande said, a truly successful and frictionless communications channel might even preclude citizens directly accessing government websites. On the screen, he demonstrated that Georgia citizens looking for information on how to establish a business might be able to get everything they need from a Google search screen.

He acknowledged that state government departments would be sacrificing webpage views as a reliable metric; however, “meeting” the citizen at the Google search page “is actually a win for you.”

“You’re meeting them where they are…. Our intention is not to gain page views. Our intention to help them, and serve them.”

Deshpande said communicators should be keeping four tenets in mind:

  • User first
  • Problem first
  • Context first
  • Content first.

User first

The citizen user must always take precedence over organizational preference, Deshpande said. State employees might approach a task or a message with a mental model of “this is how we’ve always done it.” However, “as digital solutions people, we need to be asking the right questions. If this is not driven as a conversation from a user’s perspective, then we are doing our users, our citizens, a disservice.”

The private sector has already learned this lesson, Deshpande said, and the citizen has come to expect a user-centric approach. However, state government agencies are not yet consistently meeting those expectations.

He said a key problem is that each government agency is its own organization, with its own culture, message, brands, policies, strategies.

“But to citizens, we are really not multiple organizations. We are really not different departments and agencies. For them, it’s all government. And that’s fine. We cannot change that mental model. We just have to meet them at that mental model.”

“How can we make this all coordinated? That’s why we need to start thinking about an omni-channel perspective. Instead, of each of these channels being driven by their own swim lane, can they all be aligned and seem like they are coming from the same organization?”

Problem first

Deshpande explained that government agencies are likely to turn to solutions and ideas that have worked for them in the past, and “agencies are possessive of their solutions and ideas.”

However, agencies must first focus on the problem they are trying to solve.

“Let’s figure out why we are building a site, what is our message, what are we going to hope to get citizens to interact with, Deshpande said. “And only then figure out what the solution needs to be, what the technology needs to be.”

Context first

Put simply, government communicators must favor context, informed by data, over assumptions.

“We don’t want to assume,” Deshpande said, “but sometimes we just can’t help it because we don’t have the data. But we can get that data.”

Deshpande recommended “journey mapping,” a customizable, graphical representation of the user’s experience with the organization’s website and texts, from discovery and education through adoption and retention. “This is truly where you understand the holistic view of your citizen experience.”

Content first

In the “old days,” Deshpande said, sent citizens “pogo-sticking” to multiple websites as they searched for information on how to establish a business, for example. Today, presents such information, provided by subject matter experts and curated by content managers, in one place.

“Content is the glue of all these channels. This is where we need to be consistent.”

The focus on “citizen-centric,” structured content allows government communicators to offer consistent content for multiple channels. Just as important, he said, the content becomes “future-proof,” able to be adapted to new channels, such as Amazon Alexa and other digital assistants.

“When we start thinking about content, it’s about time that we think about content as fluid. It’s not content for pages anymore. The key is to treat your content right.”