Month: December 2015

4 ways the federal government can improve



Managed by the Federal Aviation Administration,, the federal government website tasked with helping agencies write better for those it serves needs renewed attention. While momentum on better government digital services is in full-swing, it’s time to re-invent how plain language is presented.

Here are suggestions for making it better:

Move ownership from FAA to 18F

FAA should focus on planes, not plains.

18F is taking the lead on a more accessible content guide and is focused on providing scalable, up-to-date holistic information on service design. 18F is the appropriate home for (also, but that’s another day).

Present plain language clearer

First-time users to the homepage are met with random information that appears to be addressed to those that are familiar with the concept of plain language, when it should be targeting first-time user and those wanting to learn more.

The only way to understand what this site is actually about is by clicking a “What is Plain Language?” at the bottom of the page, and it’s fairly inaccessible beyond the homepage.

Without creating context and describing the intent upfront and universally, the opportunity to effectively convey its importance is lost.

Make a web version of the guide

While there are .pdf and .doc versions of the plain language guide, there is nothing truly web-accessible. This could be done in a day’s time by re-purposing 18F Guides Template and empowering someone to copy/paste this information into markdown or HMTL.

Given that the web is the primary mode of communications, those managing the plain language program should lead by example.


The website needs to be simplified with a more accessible color palette, navigation and content structure. Given that it appears not much has been does with it since 2011, it’s definitely time for a refresh.

How to build a lean startup inside government

Leaders from 18F and the White House Presidential Innovation Fellowship program presented at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference on “Lean Methodologies When the Organization is the Product,” and this is the best video you’ll watch on getting a holistic approach to building a lean startup inside government.

The video features 18F Co-director Hillary Hartley, 18F Talent Director Jennifer Tress, 18F Infrastructure Director Noah Kunin, 18F Designer Nick Brethauer and PIF Director Garren Givens.

How you can follow and discuss government technology news using HashtagGov


I’ve been using Slack for a while now to follow government and civic technology news and, while it’s mostly a tool for team communications, the integrations features make it a great way to manage and digest a lot of information.

Over the past year, I’ve set up these integrations to pipe in RSS or Twitter feeds by topic, organizations, government agencies and government IT media. Once a day, I log into a Slack team I created, which I’ve called HashtagGov, and scroll through the daily news. In 15 minutes, I’ve surveyed everything I need and can get back to focusing on real work.

You can now join HashtagGov and subscribe to channels that suit your interests. If you feel compelled to discuss something, feel free to chat your thoughts or share other news that might be of interest.

How it works:

  1. Join the HashtagGov community
  2. Choose your #gov channels
  3. Follow the news and join the discussions

Visit HashtagGov to learn more and get started.

Top 3 trends in modern constituent services

The end of the year is a great time to look back and reflect. All aspects of our digital society change at a faster pace every year and how local governments serve their municipalities is no exception. Let’s take a look at three major trends in modern constituent services.

Online engagement

Historically, governments have focused on in-person meetings to receive constituent input. But this doesn’t work for everyone. Younger generations are far more comfortable engaging online while disabled or senior citizens may have trouble traveling to town halls. The best constituent service is proactive and all-inclusive, two notable strengths of online engagement.

Tools like Agora empower local governments to host online town-halls. This means constituents everywhere can participate even if they are unable to attend meetings in person. By making it easy for everyone to get involved, local governments expand the reach and effectiveness of their constituent services.

Finding and engaging citizens online, whether through traditional social media channels or platforms like NextDoor, public servants have a wealth of options to ensure their communities feel heard. Not only are engaged constituents more likely to empathize with the challenges that local governments face, they are far more likely to be part of the solution.

Cooperation makes it happen

Inside departments, effective constituent services requires centralized information. Requests of all types can come in via email, phone calls, social media, or in-person walk-ins. Staff cannot be silos of proprietary information, single points of failure when sick or retired.

To effectively serve constituents, trend-setting departments are centralizing information online. Communication tools like Slack and CRMs like Romulus ensure important information is always accessible, even when specific staff members are not.

A huge advantage of centralized information is integrating with other tools like email or 311 systems. Post-Its and paper forms aren’t known for their shareability. Communication tools and CRMs help you keep track of information from “cradle to grave”, ensuring nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Data driven democracy

Communicating changes and value delivered to your constituents should be backed by meaningful metrics. Everyone wants to provide better constituent services, but we need a sense of what that actually means.

Let’s look at two statements:

  • We are using technology to provide better constituent services than ever before.
  • We have reduced the time it takes to resolve constituent requests by 70%.

Which is a more powerful indicator to your constituents?

The first statement is subjective. The definition of “better” is pretty nebulous, and we aren’t holding ourselves accountable to a metric that the public can follow along with. Just mentioning technology fails to demonstrate how they are improving the lives of those in their district.

The second statement shows exactly the kind of impact Romulus is having on their performance. For constituent services, the time it takes to resolve requests is an important indicator of success. Technology is not an end in itself, but one powerful tool modern municipalities are using to achieve their goals.

In our digital age, constituent service has never been more important. Engaging citizens online, solving problems collaboratively, and using data to drive decision making have revolutionized how local governments are serving their municipalities. More than ever before, public servants are using powerful new tools to reach new heights in constituent services and communities are taking notice.