Why the digital transformation is a pillar for rebuilding trust in government

Trust is a complicated issue, and while improving the ‘digital experience’ citizens have with government websites and apps isn’t a panacea, it will go a l...

Trust in government is at an all-time low, according to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer – an annual global survey that polls tens of thousands of people every year. The most recent edition revealed that people trust for-profit businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) more than they trust the government.

That’s true for governments around the world. It’s not an isolated finding either. Pew Research found Americans’ trust in government has been trending down for the last 20 years.

Pew also revealed some important nuances. For example, roughly 70% of those surveyed “say that the federal government is doing a very or somewhat good job in responding to natural disasters.” However, on the flip side, fewer than 1 in 10 citizens say it’s responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans when it comes to routine interactions.

This is exactly where new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget suggests technology could fill an important role in rebuilding trust.

Trust as a form of currency

Last fall, OMB published a memorandum laying out new guidance for advancing the federal government’s digital transformation. The guidance is intended to help agencies implement a bipartisan law passed in 2018: the 21st Century IDEA Act. Progress had stalled due to “a lack of coordination and consensus” among controlling agencies.

OMB’s guidance eliminates the confusion. It details specific action items agencies must take, along with deadlines and metrics that must be reported to OMB.

The document itself is impressive. It reads like it was written in Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue rather than Washington, D.C. More to the point, the 32-page memo references the word trust 20 times – second only to the term “digital experience” (DX). That’s important because trust is a form of currency used to barter attention from prospective customers.

What does digital experience have to do with trust?

Amazon sold its first book online in the late 1990s to early adopters, but it took a while before the general public got comfortable with e-commerce. Although a book is a relatively small purchase, the process of buying online is different.

Historically, you traveled to a physical store, purchased a book from another human being at the cash register, and walked out with it in hand. By contrast, with Amazon, you paid for it now and hoped it would come in the mail later.

Today, Amazon is the most successful online retailer ever. This didn’t happen on its own – change requires management – and Amazon went to great lengths to earn trust. Amazon accomplished this by fostering a DX customers raved about.

Its refund policy was hassle-free. Returns were simple and easy. It kept addresses in your account, so you didn’t have to re-type these every time you made a purchase. Amazon implemented shipment tracking, so you would know exactly where your purchase was and when you might expect it to arrive.

The consumerization of technology

Amazon isn’t the only private sector institution to improve its DX. Google has instant answers. Uber has instant rides. Apple put a computer in your pocket – with more processing power than was on the Saturn V rocket – and made it easy for anyone to use. Fostering a productive DX is often the difference between success and failure in the technology sector.

These digital improvements also had a profound effect on mainstream expectations: It initiated a trend called the “consumerization of technology.” People just expect all technology to work as easily as it does on the phone in their pocket. When it doesn’t, they lose trust and confidence. As such, underperforming websites and apps today bring doubt and, over time, distrust.

Improving digital experience will help restore trust in government

The U.S. government maintains a sprawling IT infrastructure and hasn’t kept up with the pace of DX innovation. OMB says government websites receive some two billion visits every year. Moreover, Americans spend 10.5 billion hours filling out government forms annually. That works out to a staggering 29,000 years of paperwork.

When people can’t find the information for which they are looking on government websites, it chips away at trust. When they find conflicting or outdated information, it erodes credibility. When the instructions use ominous and difficult-to-understand legalese, the experience destroys the confidence of ordinary people who are just trying to do the right thing.

Trust between a population and its government is complicated and bigger than just the digital experience. However, we also know the interactions citizens have with government websites and apps can either destroy or improve trust. So while the government’s efforts at reviving its digital transformation isn’t a panacea, it will go a long way toward rebuilding trust.

Rob Hankey is the CEO of Intelliworx which provides FedRAMP-authorized workflow management software solutions to more than 30 federal government departments and agencies. A retired rotary wing pilot for the U.S. Army, he later worked as a government employee before founding Intelliworx.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Rost-9D)AI EO, Executive Order on Artificial intelligence

    Digital transformation in civilian services sparks demand for new agency role

    Read more