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Author's profile photo Dante Ricci

Integrating Data-Driven Government with a Citizen-Centric Approach

Blog written together by Adam Roy, Qlarion Inc. and Dante Ricci, SAP

More and more often, data driven government is part of the conversation in City Halls and State Houses across the country Being data-driven implies that planning, decision-making, and operations are guided by the measures and evidence contained within the data sets across the organization.  Today that conversation is largely focused on the data directly relevant to the operations of a single department or agency—it is an internally focused effort in how they manage themselves. This fragmented approach leads to a missed opportunity.


Taking a step back, government needs to recognize that focusing on an isolated department or agency’s data sets and not the citizen perspective limits their ability to truly serve their customers. Why? Because citizens consume different government services from multiple providers. For example, a city dweller might interact with the city by applying for a permit, paying property taxes, calling to get their street plowed, and requesting medical attention in an emergency. In most cities, four or more departments provide these services and most likely do not share their data. Frequently, there is a hesitation to share data due to cultural barriers, exaggerated security concerns, and a general desire to control and own their data.

In addition, several policies across government affect constituents, but this impact is not monitored.  Policy changes should be mapped to the data to measure the impact on the citizen and the enterprise overall.  This measurement across the enterprise is challenging due to data limitations.  Governments have to piece together dozens of disparate data sets to establish a complete, connected picture of their world.  They have to overcome extracting and integrating the data sources, matching and connecting alike records, understanding the data and metadata, implementing user friendly front-end tools, and aligning with business practices. 

However, we can see greater value by focusing on obtaining insights from multiple data sets including citizen feedback, sensor information and transactional systems to better serve citizens.  We can break down the silos between data sets to use data as an asset. 

As organizations begin their journey towards being data driven, they will take the shortest path to success, which often ignores the citizen’s perspective. When designing a data-driven solution, the citizens should be one of the audiences and their requirements captured. This is the bridge between data-driven government and citizen-centric government.

Here are some guiding principles for developing a proactive strategy to unlock the most value from data and better serve citizens. 

  • Embrace a design thinking approachUnderstand the core citizen needs across departments before trying to solve the departmental issue of the day. Understand the interaction with between government and a business or citizen and the business process from their point of view.  Often times the citizen or business has to deal with several departments to open a business or complete a process.  Obtain the citizen view by interviewing them individually or involving a small group in a design session.  This will help you design better processes or services with the constituent experience in mind. Think about your wide-ranging groups of users, and consider what will simplify life and offer a more enjoyable user experience for your citizens, employees or government. 
  • Address privacy and securityData privacy and security need to be part of every discussion when planning a strategy.  You need to be able to clearly explain how you collect, protect and anonymize data.
  • Enable your infrastructureTechnology can bring together a vast range of data from sensors, applications and citizen surveys or interviews about services.  Assess how software vendor platforms can reshape and enable connected strategies. Focus on return on investment and impact, not flashy technology.  View them as strategic partners in your process.
  • Harmonize the dataThe growing number of connected devices, people and processes is resulting in a huge volume of data.  Your organization must develop a strategy to not only store and secure large volumes of data but also enable advanced analytics at both the local and enterprise levels. These capabilities will help you understand past actions and predict future trends so you can make the right decisions at the right time.  In addition, they’ll allow you to act in the moment and provide higher levels of service to engage your growing audience of constituents by providing relevant information at the point of interaction across departments.  

Across the Nation, cities, counties, and states are starting to bring the citizen to the forefront of their data-driven initiatives.  For example, The City of Boston has taken a comprehensive approach to injecting citizen-centric initiatives into their permitting process. In the past, a property owner or construction company would need to both apply and check statuses in person, the process was vague and complex, and there was no transparency into the expected timelines.

With the focus of the new Mayor, the city has revamped the entire process to be driven by data and transparency with a focus on the end user’s experience.  To address the issues the constituents faced, the City took the following actions:

  • Created a performance management analytics solution for permit processing to track and measure delivery against targets for all levels of the organization
  • Implemented a mobile-enabled, web app called Permit Finder so permit applicants can quickly check their application progress and know the exact person to call with questions (thus avoiding a trip to City Hall).
  • Launched an address verification web-application for permit and licensing applicants to confirm their addresses and locations since Boston’s colonial roots often lead to inconsistent and troublesome addressing issues.
  • Rolling out a comprehensive online permit application system to support most applications and constituent facing interactive activities possible during the permitting process.

The collective improvement of the permitting experience in Boston was significant.  The processes averaged a 21% improvement in speed and throughput.  Not only did these changes lead to increased revenue for the City, but also re-engineered a key pain point for the residents and companies with their needs central to the design.  Under the covers, the City used a variety of technologies that enabled speed and scalability, while upholding security and data sharing where needed to present insight into the full operational picture.

Moving forward, state and local governments will need to evaluate how to share data at the point of transaction with their constituents.  As mentioned earlier, the public consumes services across many departments and they expect real-time access to information.  As the modernization of government continues, the data will need to be shared and available so that a clerk can serve the citizen during that interaction and the the government can avoid providing services or funding to those that are indebted to them.

Is your organization truly providing a seamless “horizontal” experience for citizens and businesses in the community? Share your suggested guiding principles to draw in both the citizen and inter-departmental perspective.  

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