Mar 14 2016

Federal Agencies Need to Understand All the Ways They Interact with Citizens

By understanding a citizen’s journey, agencies can provide better services.

In elementary school, we learned how to look at the dimensions of things. If we wanted to find the volume of a rectangular object (say, a brick), we needed to know the length of the side, the width of the second side and its depth.

We multiply them together and — presto — we have the volume of the object. So how can we use this example as a metaphor to think about citizen experiences? Working with citizen experiences requires a multidimensional, holistic and organic way of thinking rather than the sequential, logical and analytic approach that is typically applied using metrics and statistics. So what if we look at citizens as three-dimensional, with length, width and depth? How would this reframe them and their experiences?

Understanding Citizens' Journeys

It is important to look at citizens’ journeys. To truly understand what they experience, we follow them through time, through the ups and downs they have as they interact with agencies. The “length” of citizens is their sequential experiences and how they unfold over time. We look at causes, one event leading to another, and how actions taken impact citizen satisfaction and resolution of their issues. To understand this journey, we use journey mapping, a process of making visual representations of these holistic experiences.

A journey map should include the highs and lows, the quality of the interactions, and the state of citizens as products or services are employed to achieve a goal or satisfy a need. As it is linked to time, a journey map plots the length dimension of the citizen. Citizens are not islands.

They are embedded in a rich web of relationships that influence and color their perceptions. This span of touch points forms the “width” of citizens. Some of the touch points are directly linked to the agency and within its control (such as websites or service representatives); others are indirect, not in the control of the agency, but equally influential (such as the feedback of friends or media stories). Since the citizen does not treat these in isolation but synthesizes these messages from all the sources to create perceptions, we must also examine them in total.

By doing touch point mapping, we identify critical touch points that impact citizens and look at their impact on forming positive and negative impressions. Then we have a better view of what is influencing the experience and how to make changes to mitigate negative influences. In addition to looking along the length of the journey and the width of the touch points, we should look at the depths of citizens. The “depth” is the perceptions, feelings, emotions, context, needs and wants of citizens, which determine the outcomes of interactions and relationships. This forces us to abandon our own egos and our agency’s egos and rid ourselves of assumptions.

To do this, we use a number of tools. We create personas, which are fictional characters that represent typical citizens that use the agency’s services. Personas are not restricted to demographics (such as gender, age, geographic location and the like), but also address psychographics (ideas, beliefs, activities and behavior), sociographics (social influences) and ideographics (metaphors and sound bytes that represent who they are). At the same time, we create empathy maps to help us understand what they are thinking, feeling, seeing, touching and saying during interactions.

As with the brick, we can represent the volume of our understanding of the citizen as the formula: length X width X depth. Each part of the formula provides a critical piece of our understanding. Now let us suppose that one of those dimensions is not addressed (a value of zero), then the whole equation would equal zero.

Thinking Outside the Box

This may seem dramatic, but offers a large lesson. For example, if we have a deep understanding of citizens as people, but do not understand their journey with an agency or touch points from which they derive their perceptions, we significantly threaten our citizen experience efforts. How can we move forward addressing the multidimensional citizen?

  • Recognize that we cannot restrict ourselves to just linear, cause-and-effect thinking. Expand to look at relationships and deep, empathic thinking.
  • Join all the dimensions together to synthesize a complete view of the citizen.
  • Build the understanding over a period of time. This type of thinking requires an evolving understanding as the dimensions bounce off each other.

This is a powerful metaphor, but don’t take it literally and confuse the citizen with an object like the brick. A brick is static. People are dynamic, have choice and change continuously. The three dimensions encourage us to recognize that we must be more holistic thinkers and recognize the many facets of those being served by our agencies.


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