By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Government tech lessons from the Far East

Shutterstock image: global innovation lightbulb.

About a year ago, I blogged about experiences traveling in Asian airports that used a simple device allowing customers to press one of four buttons, from smiley face to frowning face, to record reactions to how they had been treated at passport control or how clean the airport bathroom was. At the time, I had expressed a bit of surprise and disappointment that the U.S. was lagging behind Asian governments in introducing this simple, inexpensive customer service feature.

Fast-forward to just a few days ago, when I saw a very similar smiley/frowning face system while entering and leaving China. It was not quite as bright and eye-catching (and therefore not as likely to be noticed and used) as the ones I had seen in Singapore, but it was there. 

And I just saw an article in the online edition of a magazine called FutureGov, which focuses on government IT and innovation in Asia. The article, entitled “New Taipei uses sentiment analysis to monitor, improve its services,” details how the city government of metropolitan Taipei, Taiwan, was using big data analytics and the cloud to help find patterns in customer complaints about local services. Using Chinese-language computational linguistic components, text information from complaint and case management records can be analyzed. With the city having put a lot of data from different agencies on the cloud, this analysis can be done, as needed, not just for one agency but for nearly all of the city government. The results are displayed on a dashboard, and can also be displayed spatially (something that is probably more useful for a city government than for a national one).

I bring up this latest example partly because it is interesting in its own right. Single organizations in the United States -- ranging from congressional offices to regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission to customer service agencies such as Social Security or Veterans Affairs -- probably could and should use this kind of technology. Assuming it is relatively inexpensive (the article did not discuss costs), it could provide a better view of patterns and emerging trends arising from complaints and case management files.

But this example is also interesting as yet another indication that, just as Asia is no longer an economic backwater, it seems to slowly be improving on government management as well. I bet few Americans -- even of those who care about improving public sector management -- pay any attention to lessons we might be able to learn from Asian countries. I think we should be starting to, as there are ideas and experiments underway that could be used closer to home.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:20 AM


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