A little prelude that may seem obvious, except for the fact that it is widely ignored …
The people that public officials call citizens or voters or residents are not single-minded civic machines. Most of the time they are consumers and workers outside of the public sector and so what happens outside of the public sector affects the expectations of the public sector on the part of those same citizens, etc.
So one of the more frequent parts of a consumer’s life these days is being able to track things. Here are just a few of the many diverse examples, almost all of which have been around for at least a couple of years:
- You can track your pizza order from Dominos from the oven to your front door.
- You can track shipments, at all stages, through FedEx or UPS.
- You can track the path of a taxi or “black car” that you ordered via Uber.
- You can track airline flights so you know when to leave for the airport to pick up a relative.
- You can track an insurance claim in all of its various stages. See, for example, http://www.libertymutual.com/claims-insurance/track-claim
- You can track your mortgage application. See, for example, https://www.wellsfargo.com/mortgage/buying-a-house/first-time-home-buyer/after-you-apply
However, in the public sector, this kind of tracking has been rare. In addition to tracking mass transit in some big cities (perhaps imitating the airline services), there are few examples I could find, such as:
- In the UK, you can track your application for a driving license. https://www.gov.uk/track-your-driving-licence-application
- In the District of Columbia, you can track the status of a building permit application http://cpms.dcra.dc.gov/OBPAT/idjob.aspx
- The US Internal Revenue Service lets you track the status of your refund http://www.irs.gov/Refunds/Where%27s-My-Refund-It%27s-Quick,-Easy,-and-Secure.
But clearly there are many more situations where people want to track their interaction with the government and cannot.
Why not enable citizens to track their government transactions in mid-stream? While suggestions of this kind are often proposed to increase transparency of government, the tracking actually serves a much simpler goal – to reduce frustration on the part of the citizen. If people can see where their request or application is, they will have a lower sense of frustration and a greater sense of control.
If the citizens could also get an estimate of how long it usually takes to go through each step of an approval process, all the better.
When the Internet began getting much attention more than ten years ago, many governments decided to put applications on line, at least in the form of PDF documents that people could print and then fill out. Eventually, people could apply online. New York State government, for example, had a big project that was intended to put every citizen transaction on the Web.
Well, we’re past the point where citizens accept that as the best that can be done. Now is the time to initiate a “big project” to enable citizens to track the status of each of those transactions.
Of course, the ultimate goal, in so far as possible, is to complete those transactions instantaneously online, like the fishing license app that Michigan makes available. Then the tracking problem disappears, but that’s a subject for a future blog post.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis