If you’ve ever had an idea that would improve the way government digitally serves its citizens, this may be your moment.
Nico Papafil, director of the General Services Administration’s 10x program, said the program will fund more such ideas than ever before in fiscal 2022. 10x crowdsources ideas from federal employees and turns them into shared services.
“We’re just asking the question, ‘what problems [are you] trying to solve?’ And we actually added these investment themes to kind of create some guidelines that just show where we want to add weight for the types of ideas we want to select,” Papafil said during an Oct. 21 GovernmentCIO webinar. “And we talked about how do we help the public engage better with the government? That’s one of the themes. And we want to double down on last year’s themes about climate change, and how do we improve digital services around the climate space? And the last one is equity and delivery. How are we better, as a government, providing a more equitable service to underserved and underpopulated and underrepresented communities? And so those are the themes that we’re going to be looking at.”
One such idea that Papafil said 10x is currently working on is called Benefits Eligibility Awareness Recognition Service (BEARS). The problem BEARS is intended to solve is that federal benefits services are siloed by agency, rather than following a human-centered design. BEARS would create one centralized resource that, without collecting personally identifiable information, would simply inform citizens what government benefits they are eligible for, and direct them to the relevant place to apply.
“So that’s a great example of a cross-agency type of tool,” Papafil said. “And I know some other folks are talking about their front doors for their agencies. And so we’re looking at it more holistically. It’s like a federal front door for certain components of what the public may need.”
It’s essentially the next step in the evolution of human centered design from what Barbara Morton, deputy chief veterans experience officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the VA did back in 2018.
“That was the time, that summer of 2018, where we across VA and the Veterans Experience Office and other elements had begun to hear feedback from veterans saying, ‘Hey, it is really hard to figure out where the digital front door is at VA,’” Morton said. “And that’s sort of been a long standing pain point. But we were able to channel that, those pieces of feedback and really more deeply understand the challenge, which was there were dozens of different VA websites.”
So Morton said VA went to its customers and asked where they would start if they were looking to initiate a transaction with the VA. The answer the department got back was that VA.gov was the most common starting point.
That was the first time Morton said she was aware of a secretary-level agencywide decision made based on customer experience, but the human-centered design efforts at VA didn’t stop there. Once it was decided that VA.gov would be the agency’s digital front door, the agency realized it needed to overhaul the website itself.
“So if you had seen VA.gov a number of years ago, it would have looked very bureaucratic. And I say that with love in my heart, but it was designed from the inside out. It kind of looked like an org structure containing information that probably veterans and their families don’t really care about,” Morton said. “So we went back… in partnership with the chief technology officer and other siblings across VA, we redesigned it using human centered design. So when you see it today, you will see a much more user friendly website. Top transactions are up front, and we are codesigning and iterating all along the way with users.”
This exemplifies a point Papafil made, saying that agencies each have their own missions and customer base, and they’re all concerned with serving those customers. But that creates silos that are difficult for citizens to navigate. So he helped found 10x specifically with the purpose of leveraging GSA’s assets to create cross-government shared services with human centered designs in order to knock down those silos and streamline the customer experience.
Daisy Thornton is Federal News Network’s digital managing editor. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she covers federal management, workforce and technology issues. She is also the commentary editor; email her your letters to the editor and pitches for contributed bylines.