The Federal Agency Gap: Is the Government Meeting the Engagement Demands of its Constituents?

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The impact of the internet, social networks and forums has undoubtedly led to a society of transparency and openness – terms that haven’t been traditionally associated with the reputation of the US Government.  But with the election of President Obama, along came the concept of Transparency and Open Government, “ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government”. Following on that, on December 8, 2009, the White House issued the Open Government Directive requiring federal agencies “to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.”*

Is the government making strides in this movement? Aside from being open, is the government even easier to work with?  To gauge the pulse of the public on the topic, RightNow commissioned a survey by Harris Interactive to poll over 1000 US constituents on their engagement with government agencies and how open and transparent agencies are to do business with.

The 2010 Open Government Research Report stated that 96% of respondents thought the government could improve how they engage with citizens.  Respondents cited a variety of channels they wanted to access the government but the biggest take away was that citizens just want to easily ask questions and access the information they are looking for by any means (86%).

Are Government Agencies Adopting the Era of Open?

Constituents think not.  57% don’t think the US government is serious about President Obama’s recent mandate to be more open with citizens.   And nearly 70% think that the government should prioritize social networks to be more open with citizens. Commercial organizations have seen a lot of success with leveraging social networks, forums and blogs to better engage with customers, but citizens think it will take the government 1-5 years to catch up to commercial organizations (43%)…if they can do it at all (22% think never).

And while constituents still prefer the phone when engaging with the government (85%), accessing the government online (which includes email, forums and communities, chat and social networking) was a close 2nd at 77%. In fact, the 18-34 demographic prefers online (92%) to phone (87%) or in-person (79%).

It’s no surprise that younger generations are more comfortable online and engaging in social networks as these are the technologies they have grown up with. However, what is interesting only 54% have actually interacted with the government online or via social networks and still only 60% for 18-34 year olds.

How Are Citizen’s Reacting?

While citizens are demanding more social engagement, they aren’t socializing any disappointment with the government. Of the 69% who said they have had a negative experience with a government agency, only 15% responded by leaving a comment on a website, 11% reacted by commenting on a social network and only 6% wrote a blog post.

This gap begs the question whether or not constituents just aren’t practicing what they preach or if government agencies aren’t providing the online support and open access that the American people are craving.  Government agencies are taking the right steps to move towards an area of transparency and openness, but it is clear that the public is expecting more and at a faster pace.  Government agencies need to continue to look for new avenues to fill the gap on how they are engaging with the public to deliver faster, more rich content in an accessible format.

* Open Government website http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/about

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