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Building a Foundation for Citizen-Centric Government Design

Government is not always user-friendly, but that is changing. Learn about citizen-centric government design and how local government is becoming more focused on serving community needs by design.

by Rock Solid Technologies / March 11, 2021
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Should government services be designed with citizen usability in mind?

That seems like a question that would be answered with a resounding “yes!” But user-friendly design in government is not a reality. If you asked your community members if it was easy and convenient to access all the services they need, you’d likely hear frustration.

Citizen-centric government design is rising as an answer to this challenge. Centering products and services around the end user’s experience emerged in the private sector when Apple’s first user experience architect coined the term user experience design in 1995. Now that user experience design is a trend, people expect thoughtful design and ease of use in everything. Local government services are no exception.

It’s time to rethink how local government can be more citizen-centric.

What is citizen-centric government?

Citizen-centric government is a government focused on user-centered design, built for members of the community it serves at every juncture. It is iterative, adapting to the needs of end users as preferences change, services update and new requirements emerge.

Citizen-centric government takes the whole citizen experience into account. A citizen-centric government isn’t designed to suit the preferences of the different departments within an organization’s internal structure, but is built from the outside in to tailor to how a real user would interact with government services.

Why is citizen-centric government important? Of course, it provides a better experience for residents. This can lead to fewer complaints, increased credibility and more positive sentiment towards your agencies. And there are financial benefits too. According to usability.gov, accounting for usability in government can lead to cost savings through:

  • the reduction of errors,
  • less investment in development and maintenance,
  • and increased employee productivity.

Like the private sector, local government has noticed the benefits of user-centered design. To enable citizen-centric government in the era of digital transformation, jobs like director of citizen-centered design and citizen experience specialist have emerged in cities like Gainesville, Fla. Some individuals with community outreach responsibilities have shifted their thinking to incorporate citizen-centric thinking as well. Kent Boring, community outreach specialist for the city of Lewisville, Texas, is one such example, sharing his citizen-centric philosophies in a recent webinar.

“We wanted to rethink the way we were engaging with our residents. The old way needed a facelift … Everything needs to be about how do we better interact with residents.” Shifting to citizen-centric government will require a change of mindset and some level of investment. But due to the prominence and necessity of digital transformation in government, financial costs are happening regardless. So why shouldn’t your organization become citizen-centric in the process? The outputs of improved customer satisfaction and even ROI make the move worthwhile.

Citizen-centric government starts with the citizen

It’s all in the name! Understanding how your community members interact with local government services is the first step.

People in your community see the individual services they interact with under the same umbrella. Whether it’s a permit request for a home remodel, a utility bill that needs payment or a tennis court reservation at the city park, everything is a local government service. Your residents don’t see departments or internal processes, only the services provided on the front end.

The average citizen doesn’t care to navigate the differences between public works and neighborhood services, they just want a pothole filled or branches cleared. Frustration and confusion emerge when community members encounter two different processes to take these actions.

Take an inventory of every service your city, town, county or municipality offers to citizens from the perspective of the end user. Document the details of how community members access services by asking the following questions.

  • What are all the services you offer?
  • What are the steps required to access each of those services today?
  • How do your community members discover or find information about each of these processes?

Local government’s view of services

Today, public-facing services operate across multiple departments. Here’s an example of how a local government might group various services:

Where the complexity sets in with this structure is in citizens’ engagement. Again, residents don’t care that the transportation services department is in charge of the broken stoplight in their neighborhood. They just want to report the issue, understand the timeline of the repair and ultimately see it fixed. And doing so should be easy for them to do, too. No one likes when their phone call redirects for the third time!

Of course, grouping government services by departments is necessary. Different departments have specialties and resources that allow tasks to be completed efficiently. For example, animal services and public works use vastly different tools, from the physical gear on their trucks to the software used to operate.

This siloed status quo is not citizen-centric. When each department takes care of their own domain, accessing services becomes a headache for your community members. Even if each department tries to provide positive experiences, this orientation prioritizes the department more than the citizen end user. Do any of these pain points sound familiar?

  • Different phone numbers, websites, apps, etc. are needed for different transactional requests. For example, reporting graffiti versus requesting city-operated trash pickup require entirely different, disconnected processes.
  • Citizens spend frustrating amounts of time researching the internal workings of their local government to determine the correct way to submit a request.
  • Community members must make multiple phone calls or transfers to ask a simple question.
  • Requests are forgotten or not completed because the initial request was sent to the wrong department.

In a citizen-centric government, how can the needs of community members align with the actual operations of local government without causing a total reorganization of processes? It is possible to do. And it doesn’t have to involve a total rewrite of what local government does today.

Flipping the script: moving towards citizen-centric government design

Knowing that different departments require the use of specialized tech tools, how can a local government become more citizen-centric?

The answer isn’t to undertake a painful internal migration, forcing departments to use tools that undercut their ability to do their jobs. Citizen-centric government does not come at the cost of the staff’s sanity.

To enable citizen-centric government, let teams do what they do best with a community-friendly layer added on top. When residents can easily access the services they need and government staff can get their jobs done without reinventing the wheel, citizen-centric government becomes achievable.

A government CRM, or Constituent Relationship Management system, makes this possible. A good CRM not only integrates with the tools different departments already use but brings everything together under one umbrella on the front end. Every citizen interaction is tracked and recorded in one place. This makes a better experience for community members and enables citizen-centric design.

How does a CRM enable citizen-centric design?

Let’s take an inbound request for service as an example. A government CRM allows all requests to come into the same platform. If the individual submits the request via your city’s app or website, they choose the request type, describe the request, add locations or photos, and submit. If they interact with city staff (by phone call, in-person visit or email), that person enters the request directly into the same platform.

From there, the request automatically sends to the appropriate department, using integrations to insert the complete request into the asset management system. As the agency completes the request, automation can enable updates to send to citizens automatically based on the request’s progression through stages in the asset management system.

This can apply to other local government interactions as well. Community members can pay bills or tickets from the same system, rather than across multiple websites, phone numbers or apps. This could also allow permits or business applications to be submitted into a single portal that citizens can use to track progress and monitor approvals.

A CRM creates a foundation for citizen-centric government. As a digital layer that enables every citizen interaction, government CRMs help improve citizens’ access to local government services. Automation makes things easier for government leaders and staff as well, reducing time spent redirecting incorrectly assigned requests and customer complaints. The system can also provide valuable data to leadership, which can be used to analyze trends and build better communities.

Consider citizen-centric government design for internal and external efficiency

Thinking about government services through the lens of citizen-centric design is imperative for the future. Citizen expectations of service will continue to increase. Usage of smartphones and computers to engage with local government will also rise.

Citizen-centric government has real benefits. It can support customer service goals, reduce complaints and even provide ROI. Done correctly, citizen centricity can also help local government be more efficient; designing and delivering services to be logical and easy-to-use incorporates more use cases. In a resource-conscious local government, this is critical! Making a move towards adopting citizen-centric government design may seem like a mammoth effort. But there’s good news: You don’t have to tackle everything all at once!

Start with a service or department and apply citizen-centric design tenets to its next upgrade. Any system undergoing a digital transformation is a great candidate. Incorporate a CRM designed specifically for government as a base and build up from there. Taking steps in the right direction can serve as a catalyst to prove the value of citizen-centric government. Citizen-centric government provides a framework to think about how government performs one of its central functions: citizen service. How can your agency incorporate citizen-centric government design?


Rock Solid Technologies is a collaborative citizen engagement platform that helps local governments and their citizens work as one. As a trusted government technology partner for 25+ years, our intuitive all-in-one Citizen Relationship Management (CRM) and Mobile Application Platform-as-a-Service solution gives community leaders the tools they need to make informed decisions, connect with residents and build stronger communities. Learn more at https://www.rocksolid.com/.


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