Strategic Concept 3: Self-Governance in the Digital Age

Purpose:  Technology that makes government transparent, available, and intuitive

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” – Thomas Jefferson

Description: The wide-spread use of technology in government has fundamentally changed the ability of government to interact with the people of California.  Consequently, we can now reach more constituents in more ways than ever before.  The vision of a government that is transparent, accessible, and accountable demonstrates the profound transformative potential of weaving a coordinated IT portfolio throughout California government’s operations. For instance, the Governor’s eBudget solution and its corresponding Web site not only improved how budget information is submitted from agencies to the Department of Finance, but it also put budget information online in an organized and digestible format.  Now, the people of California can have access to the data they need to have an informed hand in the budget process.  The greatest value from government’s use of (and investment in) information technology is the ability to engage residents and businesses on their terms at a time and place (in social networks, online communities and collaborative spaces) of their choosing.  Creating a California that fulfills this potential is one of the most important tasks of government operating in the digital age. 

Strategy 1:  Make government more transparent

Strategy 2:  Increase the availability and accessibility of government services and information

Strategy 3:  Make government services easier to find and use

Strategy 4:  Protect personal and other sensitive information entrusted to state government

Bottom Line:  To eliminate barriers between Californians and their government, it is necessary for the state to expand access to public information and services, such that government engages residents and businesses on their terms at a time and place of their choosing. 

The essay that follows explores the idea of self-governance in the digital age playing out in the future.

Technology Shouldn't Dehumanize Customer Service Andy Opsahl
Government Technology, 2009

I don't recommend checking in on an interactive airport kiosk without your confirmation number, lest you repeat my experience with a Southwest Airlines "customer service agent" on a recent flight to Orlando, Fla.

I forgot to check in online, and I didn't print the e-mail itinerary that had my confirmation number. So I politely asked a Southwest agent, "Joe" - I didn't see a nametag - for help.

"Use your driver's license like the picture shows you," Joe snapped. In other words, "Look at the screen, idiot." I saw no such picture, but it was 4:30 a.m. I inserted my driver's license and followed the prompt. No ticket emerged, but the screen directed me to another kiosk. I reluctantly reported the problem.

"It must be something you're doing," Joe griped. He told me to follow the prompt again, and when the machine wouldn't continue, Joe hopped to my side of the counter, rolling his eyes. He opened the machine and my printout was jammed inside. Instead of an apology, I got a rebuke.

He asked why I needed a ticket when the machine said I'd already checked in from home. "But I didn't check in from home," I said. "Well, someone at home checked you in," he retorted.

After finally printing my ticket, I just wanted to escape this jerk. But then he complained about sticking baggage tags to the video equipment crate I was checking. Joe said the tags would likely fall off during transit, and if so, I'd be out of luck. But shoving the large crate into the airplane's overhead bin wasn't an option. Thankfully it arrived safely in Orlando.

Was Joe's attitude his fault, or do these machines dehumanize customers? This question has implications for government field offices. Technology often increases efficiency and saves money, but government leaders must train employees to prevent machines from turning customers into cattle.

Citizens typically use these agency machines at the humblest points of their lives. Applying for food stamps at an agency's terminal may be humiliating, but at least you don't have to face a person. If you can't figure out how to operate the machine, a curt government employee telling you how easy it should be would feel like rock bottom.

I began writing this article immediately after navigating airport security officials - who were much friendlier than Southwest Joe. If I had waited, my anger would have dissipated. Maybe Joe was just having a bad day. But that's for his supervisor to determine, not customers paying good money to be treated like garbage.

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