Author: Ryan Waggoner

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?