The U.S. government hopes a new interactive project will give federal agencies a template to embrace and thrive in the mobile device movement. Called Making Mobile Gov, the program will establish a community-generated wiki and toolkit on how to implement mobile websites and applications that better serve citizens who need information from Uncle Sam while on-the-go.

Launched in June by the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT), Making Mobile Gov consists of three phases — Discover, Discuss, Design — that will incorporate commentary from the public and private sectors. Once finished, the how-to guide will provide a best practices model for presenting data on smartphones and tablets.

Gwynne Kostin, director mobile for OCSIT, said her office spent the last six months talking to mobile innovators to get ideas and then reached out to 25 federal agencies to uncover what they needed to meet the mobile demands of customers. Kostin recalled that initially, the group talked about doing a white paper, but quickly changed focus to the three-phase approach that is Making Mobile Gov.

“We know that government doesn’t have all the answers and one of things that transparency and the open government initiative has encouraged government to do is reach out beyond our standard confines,” Kostin said. 

Currently in the “Discuss” phase of the program, OCSIT is presenting 10 different topics with a variety of issue questions. Anyone can take participate in the discussions by leaving comments on the Making Mobile Gov website

According to Kostin, some of the upcoming topics will focus on budget concerns, using multiple platforms, technology expertise, intergovernmental sharing, security and identity management. When all the commentary is compiled, the third phase, Design, will begin.

“In this part of the project what we’ll be doing is having a broad dialog on what are some solutions and steps forward we can take,” Kostin said. “We’re hoping to get a lot more public input. Not just what their expectations are, but what they want — apps, a mobile website or services that they want at any time.”

An Evolving Process

Once all three phases are complete, Kostin said it would take a month or so to develop the wiki and toolkit, estimating a September timeframe for their debut. Once they are online, the work on Making Mobile Gov won’t be finished, however. Kostin revealed that OCSIT plans to continually update the information to stay current with the latest strategies and trends.

“As more agencies gain experiences we’ll be able to amplify and share those as well,” Kostin said. “The more we can share, the more we can jump-start these efforts rather than each agency starting from ground zero.”

The vast amount of data many federal agencies have to share and the practicality of accessing all of that information on a mobile device is admittedly a challenge, Kostin said.

She pointed to the “IRS2GO” app from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a good example for other agencies to follow. The app allows people to check their tax refund and focuses on a couple of basic tasks, avoiding the pitfall of getting too bloated and confusing. Kostin said the app was effective in combining the demands of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which mandates that agencies write and make content available in a clear way with an item that is task-oriented and useful for people.

While Kostin believes the Make Mobile Gov program is necessary as the shift toward personal communication devices continues, she was adamant that any strategy that comes out of the project needs to remain flexible to account for the rapid changes and fluidity of technology.

“I think the critical thing for government is to take a look at what our information is and how we will deliver it in the future no matter what the device,” Kostin said. “Device agnosticism is going to be really important. We need to be able to have our information available in any way the public wants to consume it.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.