Meet the gov guru who reinvented websites #engagement – Plus your weekend reads

Martha Dorris has been a driving force behind the use of technology to help citizens more easily and quickly obtain government services and information, whether the contact comes through a website, email, telephone call or social media.

At GSA, she created the agency's two federal Web platforms — USA.gov and its Spanish-language counterpart, GobiernoUSA.gov. In fiscal 2012 alone, 50 million visitors clicked on those two websites. An impressive feat!

Dorris is the deputy associate administrator for citizen services at the General Services Administration (GSA). She has been nominated for the Service to America Medals from the Partnership for Public Service.

Dorris told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that USA.gov is so important because the public deserves to have an experience interacting with government that is easy, accurate and timely. 

"The Digital Government Strategy says data should be available anytime, anywhere on any device. I think it is important that the public is able to interact with government in anyway they want," said Dorris.

Why engagement?

"When the public comes to government it is usually at a time in their lives when things are not that great. They're paying taxes, preparing for a disaster, trying to get benefits. At those moments they are already in a fragile state, so we as the government need to make accessing those services as easy as possible," said Dorris.

Office of barrier breakers

"Part of our office is set up to breakdown barriers so other agencies can improve their service delivery. We are always trying to keep up on what is changing in the technology and tools world. Understanding your customer helps to drive the technology you will need at your agency," said Dorris.

Agile development

"The pace of technological development will never slow down. So the key is to try things in small ways and then capture the benefits, that way you can scale the programs that work," said Dorris.

Know the audience

"If you are dealing the Social Security Administration, you are dealing with an entire different generation than someone applying for federal student aide. You have to push your engagements differently," said Dorris. "You need to look at who your audience is, what they are trying to accomplish and what they are expecting from government."

How USA.gov works

  • USA Search is a commercial grade, fast and relevant search tool that integrates agency documents, social media and other resources into one search.
  • USA.gov powers over 1500 websites across government
  • It also aggregates the sites and adds value to mobile applications. "Mobile is not a fad, especially for the the 20-somethings. It is something we have to take very seriously," said Dorris. "The first step any agency should make when thinking about mobility is to make their websites available in a mobile environment."

Biggest hurdles to citizen engagement?

  • Understanding what customers expect from the government
  • Surveying customer satisfaction
  • Soliciting ideas
  • Engaging the public with challenges

"It is my job to create a culture that cultivates innovation. Part of that is never being satisfied. I always want to be better, faster, more efficient. My whole team thinks like that," said Dorris.

You can find all our Sammies interviews here.

Weekend Reads:

  • Your Boss Won't Stop Spying on You (Because It Works): Bloomberg Businessweek Sure, it seems creepy. But a new study from researchers Lamar Pierce, Daniel Snow, and Andrew McAfee "paints ubiquitous surveillance in a pretty bright light." Studying 392 restaurants that are part of five chains, the trio compared rates of theft and revenue at eateries with and without a software system that monitors the data from cash registers and other money-making devices. Those with the system experienced a 22% drop in theft and a revenue increase of 7%. Productivity also increased, to boot. So should this type of surveillance happen on a larger scale? Maybe not: A recent research roundup found that "indiscriminate monitoring fosters distrust, conformity, and mediocrity." What that says about the ethos of the restaurant industry, well… no comment.
  • CBSThisMorning: To punish or pamper? What's more effective at work? Based on a piece in The Atlantic: What Makes Employees Work Harder: Punishment or Pampering? Bad news: Monitoring devices -- and, more gruesomely, massive layoffs -- really do seem to make us more productive
  • Boston Globe, A foreign video game concept: making red tape fun: "Papers, Please" is a video game about bureaucracy. Seriously. Jesse Singal goes into detail about the bizarre and sort of brilliant idea behind the dystopian game created by Lucas Pope. As a player, you have a seemingly simple objective: working a border crossing checkpoint to make sure "among other concerns, that the issuing country and city match, that the photo matches the person you’re looking at, and that their documents aren’t expired." Yeah, it may not sound all that fun (or different from your daily slog), but Singal explains that it's compelling because it allows you to carefully think through the everyday decisions we're all required to make under the cloud of time, money, and influence. In the game, you have some power but work for a state that has much more, and you're charged with balancing these pressures. On the one hand, you need to do your job efficiently in order to feed your family; on the other, you might be morally inclined to let a scared asylum pass through the border without proper documentation (something that will cost you). "It's a wonderful example of how video games can be used to help shed light on complicated human social structures," Singal explains. Wonderful, terrifying, and, for some, too close to home. And now I know what I'll be doing all weekend.

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