In looking over GT coverage in 2018, a number of major themes emerged — like microtransit and the rise of ransomware — that highlight where government’s attention was and what will be on priority lists in 2019.
Government has the reputation of being stagnant, behind the curve and difficult to interact with, and traditionally its websites reflect that. But 2018 saw real change start to gain ground. While state and local sites were previously built to make sense to internal staff, or what internal staff thought they knew about how users accessed services, the concept of “human-centered design” has begun to take hold. It means gov tech leaders are starting to think about how end users, both staff and residents alike, actually use their services, a concept that has been critical to the success of private companies like Amazon and Apple. Just like a user can buy a book from Amazon with only a couple intuitive clicks, what if they could, say, renew a driver’s license the same way?
In practice, this has meant everything from implementing chatbots and voice assistants to simply making more services available online. In January, Orlando, Fla.’s innovation director found the city had 225 services that could be pushed to the Web and set an aggressive timeline to make 50 live by summer. Chicago developed its own municipal ID that would make access to services easier for residents who needed them. The CityKey card was created through meetings with stakeholders across Chicago, all giving input into how the card should work and accounting for individuals’ unique needs.
Perhaps the biggest story of the year came from Civilla, a Detroit design studio that has made human-centered design its focus. The company took a close look at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) benefits application, talking to actual users of the unwieldy 45-page paper document to apply for help from the state, such as food assistance. They created a 100-foot “blueprint” that visually communicated the massive hurdles Michigan was asking its citizens to overcome to get the services they needed. More importantly, they got state officials to come look at it and walk through a simulation of navigating the existing system. In January, MDHHS adopted a new, trim form of the application based on Civilla’s redesign — it’s now just 18 pages long.
As technology becomes more integral not only to the daily lives of citizens but also to every aspect of the government experience, we can expect to see even more human-centered design baked into the gov tech of the future. It’ll be tougher to get a project through to delivery without user testing in 2019.