A handful of California county and city governments have been honored in the nationwide Government Experience Awards program, an annual initiative put on by the Center for Digital Government.*

The awards recognize the achievements and best practices of states, cities and counties that are radically improving the experience of government and pushing the boundaries of how citizen services are delivered. Top government jurisdictions, agencies and departments will be honored at an awards event Sept. 27 in Denver.

Among California’s entries, Riverside took first place among cities nationally for its big push to ensure that residents’ online experiences with government mirror their real-world interactions with the city.

Take for example the “One Stop Shop,” a physical location in a city where individuals can go to access a variety of city services. Lately, the city has moved to augment that with comparable online tools. “We already have electronic plan inspections through that, and now we are working to offer permitting, payments and fees in electronic form,” said Chief Innovation Officer George Khalil.

The point is to create uniformity across platforms for any given citizen interaction. “We need to make this easier for our customers, so in addition to creating a physical space, we can extend the experience digitally. Then you know that you can either walk in the door or sign onto the website, and you’ll still have the same seamless experience,” said city Marketing Officer Stephanie Harvey. 

Riverside has taken a similar approach with its “Happy or Not” feedback tool. It’s a simple mechanism: Users rate their experience by selecting from one of four smiley (or not smiley) faces. The system, which the city licenses on a subscription basis, works the same whether utilized online or in person at city offices. The online version also allows for user comments. 

“It’s a way for people to give a quick rating: Here’s how I am feeling about what just happened,” Harvey said. “That real-time feedback helps us to identify problems and it also helps us to develop content if there are things they couldn’t find. We can use that to make real changes in how we develop Web content.” 

In a further search for citizen feedback, the city also has implemented a formal complaint function in its 311 center. “A big part of customer service is knowing what we are doing well and also what we are doing poorly,” said Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Chris Tilden. “Prior to this, we didn’t have a formal system for that.” 

The move likewise addresses the theme of continuity of experience. “Whether we are dealing with graffiti removal or customer sentiment, we want to be able to track that, and we want people to report it seamlessly, whether they call 311 on the phone or use our 311 mobile app,” Khalil said. 

Going forward, city officials are looking to leverage emerging technologies as a way to drive enhanced citizen engagement. This includes a pilot that will utilize smart-speaker integration to provide service-request status through Alexa-type devices.

“Some people want to come into the office, some want to call, and then there’s the generation that doesn’t want to deal with anybody,” Tilden said. “We want to provide access on whatever channel is the most comfortable for our residents.” 

Dustin Haisler, CDG’s chief innovation officer, noted: “We saw a greater sophistication in how jurisdictions are using their channels. Do we want to use this particular channel or app? Where are people today and how do we best reach them? There was a lot more thought process going into that as part of the overarching governance, a lot more emphasis on strategy around the user experience versus the pure experimentation we’ve seen in the past.” 

Other California jurisdictions to be recognized were the cities of San Diego (second place) and Roseville (fifth place), and the counties of San Diego and San Luis Obispo, both finalists.

In addition, the city of Los Angeles received an innovation award for its Department of Public Social Services’ CalFresh outreach through #ChooseCalFresh. This social media campaign helps those who are experiencing food insecurity by encouraging families to opt for the CalFresh nutrition benefit in order to bolster their grocery budget.

The full list of winners is available online.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, parent company of Techwire and Government Technology magazine.