User-centric design is boosting democracy and citizen participation, with a little help from web wireframing and prototyping
It’s official. E-Government is the only way to govern in the digital era. According to the UN’s 2016 E-Government Survey, 90 countries worldwide now offer a one-stop portal for public information and services, and almost 150 countries make use of online transactional services. The rise in digital governance has positive impacts on transparency, accountability and citizen action.
So what is e-government?
E-government is simply the use of digital technology to improve the processes of government. In fact, governments were among the early adopters of the power of the web – the Whitehouse went online all the way back in 1994. Thanks to improvements in connectivity and technology, even local government bodies are starting to think about how best to reach users through multiple devices and across social media apps.
Why do we need e-government?
As the UN survey points out, an online presence pays dividends when it comes to transparency. In an age where fake news and public mistrust of institutions is much-talked of, e-government provides an easy way for people to find out what public institutions are up to.
Greater transparency leads to greater accountability. 128 countries now provide datasets on government spending in machine readable formats, says the UN.
Finally, e-government opens up a world of possibility around participatory decision making. From voting online to influencing the allocation of public funds, e-government users can directly impact their local or national decision-making processes.
Sounds great! Why aren’t we all doing it?
Well, government is complex. Condensing national strategy into a usable app or website is even more complex. Government websites have historically failed to offer good user experiences (just check out the Whitehouse example again!) and it’s not hard to understand why:
- Security concerns are at their highest on government sites. This poses challenges for usability.
- Ditto personal data, which is required in many government transactions but is heavily protected by law
- Governments in the US have usually bought entire technical and feature requirements of a service in one fell swoop, without testing them out on users iteratively, says the New York Times.
- Politics can get in the way of equitable government
- Government websites and apps have to work for everyone
The bad UX of many government websites is a bummer, because usable government applications are fundamental to increasing public access and participation.
How can we make e-government more user friendly?
This is where wireframing and prototyping comes in. By creating static wireframes and interactive prototypes of government websites and apps, designers and developers can test their ideas on real people, iterate and improve.
Information architecture of complex government websites can be improved by exposing user testers to static wireframes, for example. Large-scale user testing on interactive prototypes of government apps can be done remotely with testing tools, to ensure that the final design will work for as wide a selection of citizens as possible. Advanced prototyping tools like Justinmind are integrated with a ton of usability testing tools.
E-government UI designers can use web and mobile prototypes to get people even more involved in the software definition process, using a process called participatory design. In participatory design, end-users and designers-developers work together on prototypes to iterate in real-time based on user needs and reactions. This way, citizen participation in e-government starts even before an app or site is launched. People build the online services they need.
15 best e-government websites in the US
We’ve come a long way since that original Whitehouse website; US government websites are now more usable, more delightful and more inclusive than ever. In fact they’re so good that every year the Center for Digital Government holds its Digital Government Achievement Awards to honor the best ‘city, county, and state innovative and citizen-centric websites and applications from all levels of government.’ Here are the best US e-government sites from 2016.
State Portal Category
1st Place: State of Maryland
2nd Place: State of Utah
3rd Place: State of Mississippi
4th Place: State of Texas
5th Place: State of Indiana
5th Place: State of Nebraska
County Portal Category
1st Place: Baltimore County, Md.
2nd Place: Stanislaus County, Calif.
3rd Place: Anne Arundel County, Md.
4th Place: Oakland County, MIch.
5th Place: City and County of San Francisco, Calif.
City Portal Category
1st Place: City and County of Denver, Colo.
2nd Place: City of San Diego, Calif.
3rd Place: City of Hayward, Calif.
4th Place: City of Tampa, Fla.
5th Place: City of Louisville, Ky.
Todd Sander, Exec Director of the Center for Digital Government, pointed out that, “government websites have changed a lot over the past 20 years and so have citizen expectations. This year’s winners are well positioned to take up the challenge of a new era and lead the impending transformation toward more integrated, anticipatory and personalized electronic services.”
15 best e-government websites in the US – the takeaway
What these winning websites all have in common is their creation of a culture of openness and accessibility through web usability. By using a more user-centric approach, getting citizens involved through wireframing and prototyping, and using user testing to work iteratively, software developers will take e-government to the people.