Digital Gov

Delivering citizen services with one weird trick

Shutterstock image.

Brainstorming ideas might be fun, but data is a better guide to what people want. At IBM's Government Analytics Forum, some experts in online government services explained why data gathered through testing and user metrics should drive design.

"You never actually know until you're testing," said Jessica Barrett Simpson, senior federal student aid adviser at the Education Department.

The department reaches out to defaulting borrowers to encourage them to start repaying their student loans. Officials expected people to respond well to concrete information about their loan repayment amounts, but they decided to test something that seemed like clickbait: an email message telling borrowers that they could pay as little as $0 per month.

Simpson's instinct told her that few borrowers would trust the message, but when the data started coming in, her team found that the $0-per-month promise got far more responses than the more traditional messages.

Other approaches that seemed gimmicky have also proven to be effective.

In another unorthodox approach, Simpson's team told individual borrowers that they had appointments at specific times to call in and work through a repayment plan. She said she wasn't expecting many people to respond, but the gambit wound up working better than a more general request for phone calls.

"People actually picked up the phone and called" when they had an "appointment," Simpson said, even though they had always been free to call any time.

Michael DiDomenico, an associate on the White House's Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, said people appreciate clear, simple directions. To that end, he seeks to simplify the text on federal websites and provide fewer options because at some point, choices can overwhelm users.

On a student aid repayment site, having an "I want the lowest monthly payment" button proved popular, DiDomenico added. It showed that despite the increase in long-term interest payments, many users want to quickly pay as little as possible in the short run.

Having studied data on how people use federal sites, DiDomenico said he has become intimately acquainted with users' need for speed.

"Small barriers have big impacts," he said, noting how little patience an increasingly mobile public has for hard-to-read, multi-stepped government websites.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


Featured

  • FCW Perspectives
    human machine interface

    Your agency isn’t ready for AI

    To truly take advantage, government must retool both its data and its infrastructure.

  • Cybersecurity
    secure network (bluebay/Shutterstock.com)

    Federal CISO floats potential for new supply chain regs

    The federal government's top IT security chief and canvassed industry for feedback on how to shape new rules of the road for federal acquisition and procurement.

  • People
    DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, shown here at her Nov. 8, 2017, confirmation hearing. DHS Photo by Jetta Disco

    DHS chief Nielsen resigns

    Kirstjen Nielsen, the first Homeland Security secretary with a background in cybersecurity, is being replaced on an acting basis by the Customs and Border Protection chief. Her last day is April 10.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.