There's a lot of talk about digital transformation these days, and it seems like every business from big to small has a plan to drive whole-scale organizational change. This has resulted in a radical shift in the way organizations sell to individuals who shop and interact with one another.

The public sector is no exception. Many federal and local agencies are looking to quickly evolve and adapt to the needs of their citizens. They're excited about the possibilities ahead as they go from basic digitization, such as switching paper processes to digital, to true digital transformation, which entails a citizen-centric reorientation from within the organization.

But where should they start? We've identified five proven ways that will form a good foundation for any digital transformation strategy.

1. Embrace new work concepts within your agency

To make room for innovation and respond faster to citizen needs, you should embrace new processes and ways of working. Some are as specific as adopting methods like agile development, which allows better management of competing priorities. More than that, however, it’s about cultivating a “freedom-to-fail” environment, where employees feel empowered to take risks and make mistakes. This is a greater call to change the traditional risk-averse culture within agencies. If someone gets fired for making one mistake, no one else would be willing to take risks. Having an entrepreneurial spirit and sparking an organizational culture change can motivate employees to seek creative solutions and think outside the box.

2. Invest in your workforce so technology is developed expertly and securely

According to an ICFI digital report, many federal agencies don’t think they have the necessary digital skills to do what they’re supposed to do. You can address this by encouraging your staff to develop new skills beyond IT (e.g., business acumen, collaboration) and forming the right programs to support those pursuits. The more immediate solution might be to hire outside firms that are willing to work alongside your current team, training them in new practices and strategies. Regardless, be sure to find ways to transition employees who are used to the current way of doing things. Great leadership and vision mean guiding employees toward the steps they need to take to transition into new processes successfully.

3. Design new services around citizens

This starts with asking the citizens about their needs and preferences. Engage them through website feedback forms, surveys, ethnographic data collection and interviews. Use all the information you’ve gathered in the creation of services and respond to feedback in ways that ensure they’re being heard. The U.S. Immigration process is a great example. Following a call from the administration to improve the visa process, the U.S. Digital Service partnered with the Departments of State and Homeland Security to redesign the entire process and policy. They started by understanding the user’s needs, then prioritized their experience from start to finish.

4. Learn strategies from the private sector

There are many good lessons and takeaways from the private sector (and more overlap than often acknowledged). For one, those within the citizen sector often have a sharper sense of current trends and technologies. They learn what devices or solutions their main audiences are using, and they are able to quickly adapt to new buying patterns or behavior. Also, methods like customer journey mapping are gaining popularity and have been useful for identifying pain points and bottlenecks. In terms of management, many start-ups have taken to a flat organizational structure, which has allowed for better collaboration between departments and a breakdown of silos. In these ways and more, the government can evolve by applying these proven strategies within their own sector.

5. Be transparent about your process and results

No matter where you're at in the digital journey, it's important to keep the public in the loop. Provide clear updates and insights into project statuses. This transparency will result in a greater trust between the public and government. Here we should also mention the value of open data, which can’t be overstated. Open data invites accountability from the public while allowing citizens to play a more active role in getting involved and effecting change as necessary. A good example—though it's still a work in progress—is the 18F dashboard. (Note their simple, direct motto: We are building digital services for the American people.)

Above all, it’s important to remember that the digital journey is a chance to engage actively, not passively, with the citizen. Look for opportunities to share resources or services that citizens might not have known about, and try to understand the heart of each problem that arises. Be prepared to constantly design and release updates as new needs develop. Things can change quickly in the digital world, but focusing efforts on the citizen will always serve the heart of any real digital transformation.

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