Government Services Through a Life Events Approach

The federal government is increasingly focused on designing and delivering citizen-centered services with enhanced experiences that deliver value to customers. These ideals are established in the Presidential Management Agenda Customer Service Cross-Agency Priority Goal, the Digital Government Strategy, and various open government activities. Designing services to be responsive to be life events that drive public needs is a powerful way to deliver citizen-centered value.

What is a “life event?”
Baby Shoes

Life events are events that have a significant impact in a citizen’s/stakeholder’s life and that warrant government awareness or involvement. A life event may be the birth of a child, change in employment status, a serious injury or illness, a home purchase, a crime, a natural disaster, or pursuit of a college education. There are many more examples of life events that span the range of government services at all levels of government. Life events create the need for government services that often time span agencies and levels of government. For instance, when a natural disaster occurs, local, state, and federal resources may be needed to help the injured, restore safety, rebuild infrastructure, and renew local economies.

Imagine a Day

What if the federal government harnessed a “life event” approach to deliver citizen-centric digital services to the public? As an example, imagine you just got married. Wouldn’t it be great to change your name in one place online, and have your records with several government agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration, updated with just one request? Think about life as you age. Every “tomorrow” is a step in the aging process, and as we get older, our thoughts move to retirement, our social security benefits, health care needs, and perhaps our veteran benefits. Wouldn’t it be a better end-to-end customer experience for American citizens if agencies could coordinate to deliver services that meet our needs in a seamless way?

Current Examples

There are some great examples of governments and agencies already modeling this approach. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office has effectively delivered an enhanced digital experience around an important life event—going to college. In one digital interaction, you can apply online for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The application pulls tax information directly from the IRS right into your application. The application also saves your personal information each year, so you don’t need to re-enter this information every year when you re-apply. You simply verify your data and update your tax information. The application process is easy, customer friendly, and takes approximately 10 minute to complete.

USA.gov from GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies/18F just recently released two beta sites (beta.USA.gov and beta.Gobierno.USA.gov) to transform self-maintaining portals to a bilingual publishing platform for government agencies. They developed and used personas to guide the site design and content. As they crafted these personas, they found that many people came to USA.gov to find information on tasks such as getting a passport or social security card, finding a location to apply for unemployement benefits, or starting a new business. All of these are life events.

MyMoneygov Financial Aid

The Department of the Treasury manages a website, MyMoney.gov, which is the federal government’s one-stop shop for federal financial literacy and education programs, grants and other information. MyMoney.gov has used a life events framework since 2009, based on survey research and outside experts which showed them that taking a life events approach would help users more easily navigate the site to find the information that they need. Since MyMoney.gov has information from over 20 federal agencies on a wide array of topics, users may not know what agency has the resource that they are looking for, but the life events framework provides a path to the right resource.

Challenges/Issues to Consider

Before a true life event focus is considered part of regular service delivery in the U.S. federal government, there are several challenges and issues that must be considered, including: privacy concerns; sharing of personally identifiable information (PII); agreement among agencies on areas of collaboration; and technology challenges.

Life Event Project

Currently, a cross-agency work group is teaming with industry partners through the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) to research how agencies can become more citizen-centric and improve customer service by harnessing a life-events focus. The work group is interviewing several federal agencies and private sector organizations to discover opportunities for further collaboration. When the research is finished, they will present recommendations for improving public engagement, fostering collaboration and sharing information across agencies. The final report will highlight how a life events focus is used in government today, and how it can be expanded to improve service delivery to American citizens.

Call to Action

Does your agency provide important information around key life events that could enhance service delivery to the public? You may already be on our list of agencies to interview, but please reach out if you’re interested in helping with this project or if you have a life event perspective from your agency that you would like to share with us. We’ll be conducting interviews during May and June, and would be happy to include your agency as part of our analysis.

For more information, please contact Mary Ann Monroe, Director of Customer Experience for the Federal Citizen Information Center in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at GSA.

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