City of Riverside Awarded 1st Place for 2019 Government Experience Awards

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(This article was written by Adam Stone and published in govtech.com on September 18, 2019.)

The winners of the third-annual Government Experience Awards, conducted by the Center for Digital Government,* stand out for their efforts to utilize government technology resources at a higher level, with mature implementations driving deeper and more impactful citizen engagements.

“We saw a greater sophistication in how jurisdictions are using their channels,” said Dustin Haisler, CDG chief innovation officer. “Do we want to use this particular channel or app? Where are people today and how do we best reach them? There was a lot more thought process going into that as part of the overarching governance, a lot more emphasis on strategy around the user experience versus the pure experimentation we’ve seen in the past.”

At the state level, this year’s nominees made wider and more complex use of emerging technologies. “Initially, a lot of states, for example, were using chatbots for basic Q&A, delivering information that was pretty readily available. Now we are seeing chatbots emerging for things like taxes, subjects that go into much more complex use cases,” Haisler said. 

The counties have turned a serious eye toward long-term IT strategy. “There’s a big effort, for example, around APIs and support for third-party applications, even if they aren’t using those things yet. They are building the plumbing that will be needed to support the new channels and platforms that are emerging,” Haisler said. “It’s interesting to see how quickly things have evolved beyond just the website. They are looking not just at today’s needs, but also at what is coming next.”

Cities meanwhile increasingly have governance as a focal point of the IT agenda. “In the past, cities haven’t necessarily had an IT governance model, much less one that included citizen experience,” said Haisler. “Now they are putting processes in place to deal with the rapidly changing environment. They’re using governance to make smart IT decisions around the various emerging channels.”

RIVERSIDE, CALIF. — FIRST PLACE IN THE CITY CATEGORY

Officials in Riverside, Calif., have made a big push to ensure that citizens’ online experiences with government mirror their real-world interactions with the city.

Take for example the “One Stop Shop,” a physical location in a city where individuals can go to access a variety of city services. Lately the city has moved to augment that with comparable online tools. “We already have electronic plan inspections through that, and now we are working to offer permitting, payments and fees in electronic form,” said Chief Innovation Officer George Khalil.

The point is to create uniformity across platforms for any given citizen interaction. “We need to make this easier for our customers, so in addition to creating a physical space, we can extend the experience digitally. Then you know that you can either walk in the door or sign onto the website, and you’ll still have the same seamless experience,” said city Marketing Officer Stephanie Harvey.

Riverside has taken a similar approach with its “Happy or Not” feedback tool. It’s a simple mechanism: Users rate their experience by selecting from one of four smiley (or not smiley) faces. The system, which the city licenses on a subscription basis, works the same whether utilized online or in person at city offices. The online version also allows for user comments.

“It’s a way for people to give a quick rating: Here’s how I am feeling about what just happened,” Harvey said. “That real-time feedback helps us to identify problems and it also helps us to develop content if there are things they couldn’t find. We can use that to make real changes in how we develop Web content.”

In a further search for citizen feedback, the city also has implemented a formal complaint function in its 311 center. “A big part of customer service is knowing what we are doing well and also what we are doing poorly,” said Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Chris Tilden. “Prior to this, we didn’t have a formal system for that.”

The move likewise addresses the theme of continuity of experience. “Whether we are dealing with graffiti removal or customer sentiment, we want to be able to track that, and we want people to report it seamlessly, whether they call 311 on the phone or use our 311 mobile app,” Khalil said.

They don’t just track the bad news. A recently added “I Love Riverside” function allows 311 users to report on their good vibes as well. “311 can feel very negative: There’s a pothole, someone missed my trashcan,” Harvey said. “As public employees, there’s a lot of hard work, a lot of long nights, and the positive messages allow us to recognize employees who are doing a great job.”

Going forward, city officials are looking to leverage emerging technologies as a way to drive enhanced citizen engagement. This includes a pilot that will utilize smart-speaker integration to provide service-request status through Alexa-type devices. “Some people want to come into the office, some want to call, and then there’s the generation that doesn’t want to deal with anybody,” Tilden said. “We want to provide access on whatever channel is the most comfortable for our residents.” 

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