We Are All Stakeholders: Usability and User Experience in Government Systems

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Think of government systems as confusing by design? …

Think of government systems as confusing by design?

Elizabeth Buie, a computer systems professional with over 35 years of experience working on government systems and websites, gives her insights on the role of usability and user experience in government systems. She discusses how applying these principles and techniques in the design of government systems can make government more effective and efficient, thereby making it more cost effective and less expensive to run. She describes how these approaches can enable government systems to give their users a satisfying and even — dare we hope? — pleasant experience, whether they are interacting with their government from the outside or working for it on the inside.

In government systems, we are all stakeholders.

These findings are covered in Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants, which Elizabeth co-edited with Dianne Murray. This book, the first one to address this subject, contains chapters written by more than 30 experts in the field. You can get the book from Amazon at http://is.gd/uxgov

This presentation was given to the DC Web Women in the autumn of 2012.

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  • This is me, in case you can’t tell what I look like.
  • There ARE some exceptions — specifically, internal systems whose use is optional. These are more like public-facing systems if the agency wants to encourage staff to use them. DOT’s IdeaHub is an example of this. btw, these are all photos of real public servants, obtained from government sites.
  • Usability is defined as effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. The first two are somewhat straightforward.


  • 1. We Are All StakeholdersUsability in Government Systems User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants Elizabeth Buie Luminanze Consulting @ebuie
  • 2. Who Am I?• I’ve specialized in UI/ usability/UX since the Beginning of Time 1978• I’ve worked on government systems even longer 1975• I’ve worked in a very large firm, a very small firm, and a solo practice (current)
  • 3. Some Notes on Terminology• “Usability” — effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction (from ISO 9241)• “User experience” (UX) — users’ subjective experience surrounding their use of a product• Good usability is (usually) necessary for a good user experience, but they are not the same thing• We can design FOR good user experience, but we cannot (for the most part) design the experience itself: “UX design” is a shorthand
  • 4. We Are All Stakeholders
  • 5. How many lives do govt. systems affect?Can you think of anyone whose life is NOTtouched in some way by a government system? – Their own govt. • national • state/regional/local – Nearby governments – The US Government About 6.8 billion lives
  • 6. The audiences of government systemsWhat do you think of when you hear this phrase? “usability in government” Agency websites? Gov 2.0? Voting? It’s all of these, and more.
  • 7. Two kinds of audiences• Public: citizens and others – citizens – non-citizen residents – visitors and potential visitors to the area – hopeful immigrants• Internal: public servants – employees – contractors• At all levels: national, state/regional, local
  • 8. Major goals of public-facing systems• Provide information and services to the broadest possible audience• Conduct transactions with the public – Optional • e.g., find a library book and put it on hold – Required (but doing them on line may be optional) • e.g., pay taxes, renew vehicle registration• Encourage citizen participation (Gov 2.0)• Protect citizen privacy
  • 9. Some major goals of internal systems• Conduct the work of the government as effectively and efficiently as possible• Maintain national/regional/local security
  • 10. Internal systems: some examples• Defense systems• Air traffic control, spacecraft control – some of these are defense related• Agency intranets• Emergency response systems• Management of critical infrastructures• Legislative drafting (lawmaking)• Internal social media applications (e.g., the US Department of Transportation’s IdeaHub)
  • 11. Public and internal share many concerns• Content strategy• Plain language• Accessibility• Mobile access• Security• Biometrics (fingerprints, iris recognition, etc.)• Cross-cultural issues Photo by NIST
  • 12. Usability and UX in the process• Getting UX work into the contract• Use of usability process standards• User-centered requirements engineering• User-centered software development• Usability evaluation
  • 13. biggestPublic-facing systems are not the problem ^• Government often sees the public as customers• A good experience motivates people to use the site or system of democracies• Governments want to be responsive to their ^ citizens I redesigned this interaction, yay. 
  • 14. Internal systems can be a bigger challenge• Internal users are a captive audience*• Using the system is part of their jobs*• Systems can be very complex *with some exceptions
  • 15. Internal: Usability more sellable than UX• Effectiveness• Efficiency• Satisfaction ? – Not quite as easy – Can be couched in terms of employee morale and therefore productivity – Less important than the other two, but a case can be made• But experience? Surely you jest.
  • 16. What makes govt. projects different?• Access to users in advance – Once an RFP is issued, bidders cannot talk to users• Contract structure – Usability and UX may not be mentioned in the RFP – Can be difficult to bid it if not• Effect of national politics – Priorities – Direction – Funding
  • 17. What makes govt. projects special?• Number and diversity of users affected• Potential to affect important aspects of many people’s lives• Potential to help make government itself more effective and efficient Dare I say “more satisfying” too?
  • 18. Challenges to UX in the govt. process• Getting usability into the contract (or the RFP, if you’re on that side of the project)• Working it into the project if it’s not in the RFP• Getting awesome UXers – Being seen as sexy * – Paying as well as commercial *I do have to confess, though, that NASA, ESA, and the International Space Station are pretty dadgum sexy projects.
  • 19. Flexibility is essential• Do what’s called for in each project• Pay as much attention to the users’ subjective experience as we can, within constraints• I offer my motto: Any improvement is good news.
  • 20. And finally, some wider issues• Service design – Cross-channel design – Channel shifting• Applying design to policymaking• UX designers and e-democracy
  • 21. Thank you!Elizabeth BuieLuminanze Consultingwww.luminanze.comebuie@luminanze.com@ebuie Order book from Amazon at http://is.gd/uxgov