3 takeaways from the team who helped Californians access affordable internet
On May 12, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a new program that provided temporary discounts on internet services to qualifying low-income families in California.
Last month, the Partnership hosted an event with three former leaders from the California Office of Digital Innovation who worked to increase Californians’ access to the program and helped inform the FCC’s improvements to it. Today, the program has been relaunched as the Affordable Connectivity Program.
The event offered three takeaways that other public sector leaders from across levels of government can use as they work to improve access to services and develop better program outcomes.
Engage directly with the public.
Government programs, especially those launched quickly to respond to a timely need, may include unintentional barriers or hurdles that reduce access for certain groups of people. Engaging potential and current users to understand their experience accessing the programs can help government organizations build trust and deliver more inclusive and equitable services.
In the case of the Office of Digital Innovation’s work on the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, Justin Lai, a former user experience researcher for the office, walked through the application for the benefit program with individuals over the phone. By helping applicants create a password, find their login information or troubleshoot problems, Justin and the digital innovation team identified both big and small improvements to the application process.
Let customer feedback speak for itself.
As government leaders receive feedback about programs and services, they should consider presenting the suggested changes to key stakeholders in a way that will inspire action.
For example, the Office of Digital Innovation team collected a range of proposed recommendations as a result of its user research—from practical improvements to more significant changes.
When the team prepared to share this feedback with the California Public Utilities Commission and the FCC, it included audio clips of its conversations with users to highlight where changes could be made. Stories are powerful, and hearing the challenges of users—such as their difficulties in navigating the benefit application on a mobile device—underscored the potential impact of making programmatic changes based on customer feedback.
Build relationships across levels of government.
Government leaders and agencies rarely operate in fully independent domains. Many of the toughest challenges they address require multifaceted solutions that reach across sectors, levels of government and federal agencies. By building relationships outside of their own offices or agencies, government leaders can capitalize on opportunities for collaboration and innovation to best serve the public.
One small, but crucial, factor in the Office of Digital Innovation team’s work to improve access to Emergency Broadband Benefit program was the informal relationships the team used to inform its work and present its final recommendations.
Building relationships, maintaining them and collaborating with other levels of government is essential. A federal organization, such as the FCC, may not have the resources necessary to do intensive user research at the local level. By working with partners, such as local government teams like the one at the California Office of Digital Innovation, federal agencies can deliver meaningful results and substantive benefits to the communities they serve. Building relationships with those federal, state and local counterparts early on can provide the foundation for future collaborations.
To learn more about opportunities for cross-sector collaboration, we hope you will join us on June 22 for our next event. Register here.
Cristina Bolanos is an intern supporting the Partnership’s work on the West Coast.