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Citizen-centric approaches in government

“Citizen-centric” is a term that’s being used a lot by government departments around the world. What exactly does citizen-centric mean and how does it look in the digital space?

Salsa Digital 18 July 2016

What is citizen-centric?

As the name suggests, citizen-centric means putting the citizen in the centre, in other words designing interactions with government around the citizen, to give them the best customer/citizen experience possible. During a recent (public) tender, Boroondara Council (a local council in Victoria) talked about its move from a customer service model to a customer-centric model and we think the distinction is an important one. Their tender doc said: “In a customer service model, customers have to navigate an organisation’s structure to access products and services on an interaction-interaction basis. In a customer-centric model, decisions and services are designed with users at front of mind, to give customers the experience of the organisation moving around them.” This idea of integration (service unification) was one of the key drivers for the public sector that Tom Burton identified during his keynote address at DrupalGov 2016 (see our blog for more information) and it’s certainly something many government departments (local, state and federal) are currently addressing.

Before moving onto citizen-centric in action, we found another great definition of the term via a Deloitte presentation, which said: “Citizen-centred service considers citizens’ needs at every stage of the service design and delivery process…” We think every stage is another important feature of true citizen-centric design.

Citizen-centric in action

So how does this translate into action? Into deliverables? If we consider citizen-centric service unification, there are many examples here in Australia and overseas. Some of these examples we’ve already blogged about in this Digital Transformation in Government (DTIG) series, such as Service NSW and the launch of the Alpha prototype for GOV.AU. Both are excellent examples of customer-centric design in digital transformation. Boroondara Council called out Manchester City Council and Norwich City Council in the UK as exemplary sites.

Thinking more broadly about strategy and deliverables, in the Deloitte presentation some of the key actions identified are:

  • Integration of information and services for one-stop shop
  • Simplification and automation of service delivery processes
  • Elimination of asset duplication
  • Working across government departments (collaboration)
  • Grouping of services around life events (bundling related services together)
  • Segmentation of customers to address each segment’s needs
  • Self-service channels
  • Multiple channels with seamless integration across channels
  • Service culture
  • Staff empowerment

For its tender, Boroondara Council had a number of strategic objectives to move it from a customer service model to a citizen-centric model. These objectives (many of which align with Deloitte’s action areas above) covered things like improved customer channels, customer engagement and online services. While digital experience isn’t limited to the online world, it’s a key focus area for us here at Salsa Digital. Boroondara Council specified “improving the quality, accessibility and usability of online information and services, adopting a user-centred approach to redesigning them, and expanding self-service options.” These elements are essential to any digital transformation project in the online space — as an example, they were key drivers in the new Victorian Budget website.

Four stages to becoming citizen-centric

In a 2013 report titled Agile Government: A Citizen-Centric Approach to GrowthAT Kearney noted four stages that governments move through to become citizen centric. These covered the key areas of strategy, organisation, processes and systems.

  Citizen neutral Citizen aware



Citizen centric
Strategy No clearly defined strategy for anticipating citizen needs

Citizen needs acknowledged

Short-term strategy but no long-term vision

Crisis-influenced decision making

Citizens seen as primary strategic element

Partial link between strategies and objectives

Citizens at the centre of strategy

Clear, consistent link between strategies and objectives


No team to manage citizen relationships

No collaboration or information sharing with other organisations

No KPIs to measure service performance

Limited resources to handle citizen concerns

Limited collaboration and information sharing with other organisations

Some elements of service KPIs measured but not systematically tracked

Citizen service desk with clearly defined roles

Collaboration and information sharing with other organisations

Consistent tracking of some elements of service KPIs

Central citizen relationship team across divisions with well-defined roles

Maximum collaboration and information sharing with other organisations

Well-defined and disclosed service performance KPIs

Processes No process for receiving and analysing citizen feedback Limited process for receiving and analysing citizen feedback Well-defined process for receiving and analysing citizen feedback reflected on organisation effectiveness and efficiency

Optimised process for receiving and analysing citizen feedback

Continuous process improvement

Systems No use of media, social media, internet or other mechanisms to communicate with citizens Limited use of media, social media, and internet to communicate with citizens Opportunistic use of media, social media, and internet, mainly to communicate policies and services (push model)

Systematic use of media, social media, and internet to capture feedback (pull model)

Integrated tools and systems for real-time communication with citizens

Table reproduced with permission from AT Kearney.

Where is your agency sitting at the moment in terms of these four stages? And what do you need to do to push your department to fully citizen-centric? Hopefully the table above will provide some insights or new ideas in an area we know most of our clients are already addressing.

Salsa Digital’s take

At the heart of Salsa Digital’s delivery process is user-centric business analysis, user-centric creative design and agile engineering. These methods, despite the fact they have been staples at Salsa Digital for years, map well to the citizen-centric mantra. By focusing on some specific areas, government agencies can move digital outcomes from citizen-motivated experiences to the utopia of citizen-centric.

Some methods we use to achieve citizen-centric websites, apps and other digital experiences include:


  • Consultation with clients to define key project success factors as measurable statements expressed, where applicable, as user/citizen outcomes.
  • Compilation of project charter with user/citizen outcomes in mind.
  • Expressing requirements as user/citizen stories with outcome-based rationale and acceptance criteria.


  • User-centred design that’s engaging and creative while also intuitively leading citizens through the ‘narrative form’ of the site (see our blog on user experience design).
  • Extensive user consultation before and after design to create the best user experience possible, with feedback loops setup to incorporate changes.


  • An agile project methodology to respond quickly and organically to a project’s needs and challenges — flexibility to continually refine/improve on the citizen experience.

These areas have a huge impact on the citizen experience, on ensuring the final digital product is truly citizen-centric.

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