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Designing for Users, Building for Residents (Contributed)

Orlando, Fla., has created a Digital Platforms and Design Team to fundamentally reinvent Orlando's online municipal service platforms.

Interacting with city or local services is the most direct and important government relationship many Americans have. But that relationship can often be incredibly frustrating if it forces residents to work around the processes and schedule of government. 

While companies have adapted their technology and changed their practices to work with the needs of their customers, governments have lagged far behind in ensuring that government services are designed for the user.

For instance, if you visited an airline website to book a ticket or search for information and all the website did was direct you to the airline’s phone number, you would likely look for a new airline. Yet municipal websites across the country continue to do just that today, directing residents to the department phone number during typical business hours.

That’s why Orlando has set a goal of becoming the first municipality to fundamentally transform the way we do business. We want to reinvent Orlando’s Web and mobile sites, turning them into service-based platforms that allow you to conduct business with us on your time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Larger cities have attempted similar feats by hiring consultants who are experts in designing digital services. However, municipal governments offer hundreds of services, and engaging consultants to design and maintain a site that supports all those services is not cost-effective. Even the largest cities with multi-million-dollar budgets can’t cover those costs, leaving cities with incomplete websites and/or without the proper teams to maintain them.

Thankfully the private sector has already found a better way. A restaurant chain wouldn’t task the best host with managing their online reservations. Instead, most companies create a separate e-commerce team charged with transforming their business online by focusing on what the customer wants and needs. In the same way, a city shouldn't assign their operating managers to build out their online services.

In Orlando, we are adopting a similar strategy by creating a Digital Platforms and Service Design Team in order to design and maintain a website that is convenient, user-friendly and cost-effective. This team will collaborate with our staff to design our services with a resident focus. All of our residents — regardless of where they live, their current mobility options or what their availability might be during the day — will be able to do business with the city when they need to. We have also enlisted the help of the many talented civic technologists that volunteer their time through our local Code for America brigade, Code for Orlando.

This team will also help us as we prepare for the future of our city services. We imagine a day where you tell your smart home you need a new trash bin, or have your smartphone automatically recognize a pothole in the photo you just took and ask if you want to send it to the city's Streets and Stormwater team for repair.

In our initial tests in Orlando, we’ve optimized the experience for a dozen of our municipal services, from requesting a composter to appealing a parking ticket. While it might seem odd to focus on something as minor and unpleasant as the parking ticket appeals process, it’s these forced services where residents feel the most frustration and like they have to fight City Hall. Instead we’ve shown that by working with our staff to redesign these services, we have increased residents' perception of our city’s customer service by 65 percent.

The private sector knows that it’s the sum of all of the small interactions you have with a company that build brand loyalty. In the same way, each interaction a resident has with government can build or take away trust. Experiences with law enforcement, parking, trash/recycling services and utilities are where most residents interact with government. That’s why we continue to seek out opportunities to improve our relationship with the residents of Orlando.

America’s mayors are on the front lines of rebuilding Americans' trust in their government institutions and we take that responsibility very seriously. Hopefully, the work we are doing in Orlando can be a case study for other cities around the country. 

Buddy Dyer has served as the mayor of Orlando since 2003.

Buddy Dyer has served as the mayor of Orlando since 2003.