FutureGov director slams citizen portals

Citizen portals are too often designed for business not user needs and need to be redesigned, FutureGov co-director Carrie Bishop has said.

Users don’t need all their council transactions in one place, Bishop argues – Photo credit: PA

According to Bishop, citizen portals – which allow people to see all their interaction with a council together – are no good.

The main problem, she says, is that the products being used as citizen portals are unintuitive and designed for business processes, not user needs.

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In a blogpost calling for councils to rethink what they are aiming to provide with citizen portals, she said that people did not have a desire for all their transactions with councils to be kept in one place.

“In all the workshops, co-design sessions and user interviews FutureGov has done over the last eight years no one could recall anyone expressing that kind of need,” she said.

Councils, she said, need a good data platform so they know who a user is whenever they transact with the council – but this doesn’t mean there has to be a front end for users.

She added that there was a lot of talk about having a single view of a customer, “but again the customer doesn’t necessarily need this, it’s a business need”.

Sharing details between account transactions is possible, she said, “without putting every council transaction behind a login wall”.

She urged councils to look at their priorities for serving the public, saying they needed to focus on different, user-focused priorities.

These include having a content management system that allows you to redesign the front end for an elegant user experience and a backend that allows access to data from the customer relations management system and store it in one place.

They should also insist on open standard with their suppliers, with Bishop saying that the sector had to get better at this: “You’re in charge, lean on them.”

Finally, she said that it was crucial to have staff that know what to do with the data that is being generated and understand how to analyse it to support constant iterations.


She also noted that users tend to require accounts for a small amount of transactions – such as benefits and housing payments – while parking permits and planning applications are regular, one-off or rare transactions.

“If you’re telling the council something (like a change of address) you shouldn’t need to see that in an account, just submit and get a confirmation email. They’re ephemeral, easily forgettable transactions,” she said.

Bishop concluded by saying that, ultimately, it was about building services not transactions; without a seamless user experience and customer journey “there’s no point messing around with systems and data”.

She added that FutureGov was developing a case management system along these lines in collaboration with ChildStory in Australia, with more details expected soon. 


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