6 Best Approaches for Designing Applications for Government Services

When it comes to innovation and technology, it’s widely acknowledged that the private sector often takes the lead. Fueled by competition, enterprises continuously push boundaries, resulting in transformative technologies that significantly impact people’s lives. Conversely, the public sector in many countries has traditionally lagged behind in harnessing technology to enhance efficiency and deliver better government services.

However, there’s reason for optimism as governments worldwide are gradually embracing technology-driven initiatives. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its 2023 Global Trends in Government Innovation report, analyzing 1,084 innovative initiatives across 94 countries. The report identifies emerging trends in government innovation, highlighting novel approaches to citizen engagement. Through the integration of apps, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technologies, government agencies have effectively addressed citizen needs.

For government officials and decision-makers aiming to develop their own innovative applications, here are essential strategies to craft government service applications that prioritize user experience and operational efficiency.

  1. Adopt a Citizen-Centric Approach

In the development of applications, the initial step involves identifying the users or beneficiaries of the new technology. In the case of government applications, the answer is straightforward: the citizens they serve. To ensure that their applications effectively meet the needs of their constituents, policymakers and government agencies must listen to citizens’ concerns before coming up solutions.

The Government Digital Services (GDS) division at GovTech in Singapore is one of the best examples of a government entity that follows a citizen-centric approach to application development. The division listens and engages with its users to determine where their pain points are within the system. With constant feedback from the users, the team produces numerous iterations of applications that make sense for the people who use them.

  1. Prioritise Ease of Use

One barrier that can hinder government approval of innovative projects is the misconception that not all citizens possess the technological proficiency to benefit from such initiatives. While this notion may have held weight in the past, recent data shows that 68 percent of the global population now owns a smartphone. With the growing use and familiarity of mobile apps among citizens, governments have a potent tool at their disposal to enhance online service delivery significantly.

By harnessing user experience design principles, developers can create apps that are intuitive and user-friendly. A prime illustration of this is the Gov2Go app developed by the Arkansas state government. Serving as a virtual assistant, this app proactively notifies users about critical government deadlines such as tax filing, voting, and vehicle registration, streamlining essential administrative tasks for citizens. Not only does this app ensure compliance for the residents of Arkansas, but it also facilitates more efficient revenue collection for the state.

  1. Implement Accessibility Features

Accessibility should be a top priority when designing government applications. It’s crucial to ensure that all citizens, including those with disabilities, can access these services, promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities. Agencies can achieve this by adhering to international accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide detailed technical guidance for developers and designers, regardless of nationality.

In the UK, the Taxicard app was developed by the Comcab team on behalf of the London Councils for persons with disabilities who want to use the government’s subsidised taxi service. During the initial phase, accessibility issues were reported and rectified in compliance with international standards. As a result of the feedback and guidance from WCAG, the London Councils were able to provide suitable solutions for people with disabilities in London.

  1. Ensure Mobile-Friendly Functionality

With the ubiquity of smartphones, government applications must be optimised for mobile devices. Indeed, citizens should be able to access government services conveniently, whether they’re on a desktop computer or a smartphone.

Governments can reach a broader audience and make services more accessible to citizens on the go through mobile-friendly features. A case in point is Singapore’s Singpass app that’s available as a portal and as an app. The app is used as a digital ID, allowing residents of Singapore to easily transact with government offices as well as private enterprises.

  1. Include Multilingual Support

In our increasingly diverse society, providing multilingual support is important for ensuring that government services are accessible to all citizens.

To cater to non-native speakers and foster inclusivity, agencies can offer multilingual support on their applications. This enhances user engagement and demonstrates a commitment to serving diverse populations. The US voting application, for instance, is offered in an astounding 17 languages, representing the most populous ethnicities in the country. This simple feature is a powerful statement to minorities, letting them know that they matter.

  1. Integrate with Existing Systems

Government applications are not one-off standalone applications. In general, they should seamlessly integrate with existing operating systems. This facilitates seamless database integration and provides a unified user experience. A great example of integrated systems is the Open Digital Platform (ODP) of Singapore. It’s an award-winning operating system that consolidates various district management operations onto a unified platform.

Effective government service applications require a holistic approach that prioritises citizen needs, accessibility, and functionality.  Through these approaches, government agencies can create applications that make the lives of citizens so much easier and better.

As technology continues to evolve, government agencies need to stay at the forefront of innovation, continually refining and improving their applications to meet the evolving needs of citizens in the digital age.

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    Abelino Silva. Seeker of the truth. Purveyor of facts. Mongrel to the deceitful. All that, and mostly a blogger who enjoys acknowledging others that publish great content. Say hello 🙂

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