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Learning how to build a better “front door” for the federal government

This was originally published on USA.gov’s blog.

Over the last several months, staff from General Service Administration’s USAGov and 18F teams have been talking to Americans around the country about the good, the bad, and the ugly of interacting with their federal government. The goal of the research is to gain a better understanding of how we can build a better “front door” to the federal government by building new digital services and enhancing existing ones.

Over the next few months, we’ll share what we’re doing and learning with a series of blog posts.

What is this project and why are you doing it?

When we started this project we knew that, for many people, interacting with the government is a mixed bag of emotions, some good and some bad. Right now, a lot of the information and services available from government sites are organized according to the agency that provides them, but that doesn’t always meet the needs of the people accessing that information or those services. Since the methods people use to interact with the government are so diverse, we didn’t really know when and how people connected with the government, or how they experienced those interactions. We also weren’t sure how people’s attitudes towards the government affected those interactions.

So we started this project with a six-week discovery phase of interviews in five major, diverse cities across the U.S. to answer those questions. This will help us shape the next phase of the project, in which we’ll design experiments based on what we learned to further explore how we can improve services and information across the government.

So, what is the “federal front door”?

We think of the federal front door as the places the public first interacts with their government. There are many front doors — agency websites (like benefits.gov), physical places (like Social Security offices), contact centers (like 1-844-USA-GOV1) — where people start interacting with the government.

With so many “front doors” to the federal government already, what does this project hope to do?

This project won’t necessarily build new front doors; it’s about learning ways to improve our existing ones. We won’t be rolling out lots of new websites for interacting with the government, but instead we’ll be figuring out ways we can simplify, streamline, and improve people’s interactions with the current ones (especially ones that interact with multiple agencies).

What’s next?

As we wind down our research, you can expect to hear more about how we conducted it and what we found. You can expect us to build little experiments to test our ideas, test them out with users, and continuously iterate. And we’ll be sharing the process through blog posts, and other media. In a future post, we’ll talk about how we went about doing research without a particular product or website in mind. Stay tuned.

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