Four Steps to the (Gov 2.0) Epiphany: Better Government Through Citizen Development

I wrote this post to explore a question: how could normal, everyday citizens be as passionate about and engaged with their government as they are with companies like Apple or Google? Here’s what I’ve come up with: government needs a Citizen Development strategy.

A growing trend in the startup and Web 2.0 space is a concept developed by Steve Blank called Customer Development, which essentially is a set of processes and best practices around incorporating user feedback and demand into every step of the product development process. Sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many startups fail to get out of the building and talk to their customers until after they’ve already built most or all of their product. You can read more about Customer Development here and here.

Anyway, we’ve been thinking and blogging a lot at MightyBrand about Customer Development, and I started thinking about government, and how some of the same lessons might be useful to government agencies, so I thought I’d walk through the four steps of Customer Development and how they might be applied by government agencies as a kind of “Citizen Development”.

We’ve seen some really encouraging trends around openness and transparency in government, and that’s exciting. It’s very important that we as citizens get data and information out of the government, but equally important is the idea of getting data and information and feedback into the government, in terms of how we want our tax dollars to be spent, and how the government can be more effective with those dollars.

This raises a question we should address: why should government agencies care about feedback?

The pragmatist reason:

If you do this, you can do more with less.

Government budgets are getting slashed at the same time that citizens expect more from the few dollars that remain. And as more data flows out of government into citizen hands, more scrutiny will be applied to how tax dollars are being used (or misused). Increasingly, citizens are going to demand that their voices are heard, that government projects adhere to best practices, and that every dollar is spent most effectively. This means NOT spending money on large projects and initiatives that there’s not sufficient “market demand” for.

The idealist reason:

It’s the right thing to do. Taking taxpayer money and spending it on expensive boondoggles and pork projects is theft, pure and simple.

So where does the rubber meet the road? How do agencies actually effectively listen to their constituents and incorporate their feedback into management and budgeting priorities? The four steps of customer development are a great place to start (and how they might translate in the context of government):

  1. Customer Discovery -> Do citizens want this project? Will they pay for it?
  2. Customer Validation -> What’s the minimum viable product we can launch?
  3. Customer Creation -> Refining and growing project based on citizen feedback
  4. Company Building -> Integrating project into larger organizational structure and management team

We’ve seen others talking about some of these ideas and actually doing some very cool things, but what we need is for the government to actively engage with its citizens. We see some small-scale and very encouraging examples (even at the Federal level), but is anyone listening on the bigger projects? How is medicare listening to its customers? What about the trillions we’ve spent on bailouts? What about the trillions we’ll spend on the health care plan? Who is listening to us on that?

What specific strategies and techniques can the government use to start engaging in conversations with their citizens and moving the needle towards passionate citizens?

About Ryan Waggoner

Ryan Waggoner is the co-founder of MightyBrand, a social media engagement platform that helps companies build strong brands by using social media to connect with their customers. You can connect with MightyBrand by following @MightyBrand or by checking out the MightyBrand blog.

2 Responses

  1. I totally agree, Alexander!  I’ve run a bunch of different interactive online spaces for the NCDD network over the years, and I’ve found that the more successful you are at getting people posting, the more ground rules you should set and enforce to keep the space civil and on-topic. For most of our online spaces, we just try to encourage comments, period — and prevent spam from ever getting posted.  But when you’re able to get things going, ground rules provide the moderator with something “real” to share with people who aren’t acting appropriately, so they don’t think you have a bone to pick with them.

    In case you’re interested, the ground rules for NCDD’s very active member listserv are posted at  We developed those rules over the years collaboratively with subscribers, and they make moderation a lot easier (especially when a problem does arise).

    Online moderation is always tricky, though… It’s often the less civil comments that get the most responses, and can really get a conversation going (that’s even the case in the very civil “dialogue and deliberation community” that I’m part of.  (We also get a lot of quality discussion going when people ask sincerely for advice, of course.)  But as moderator it’s tricky to know where the line is between “inappropriate” and “prickly enough to get people going.”  Do you find that challenging as well?


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