New federal guidelines seek to improve the digital experience
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New federal guidelines seek to improve the digital experience

March 12, 2024

In the first installment of this year’s Federal Communicators Series, the Partnership for Public Service spoke with Jonathan Finch, the acting director of digital experience at the Office of Management and Budget, to discuss how federal communicators can use the agency’s new guidelines to develop and deliver digital websites and services that create a good customer experience. 

Here are three key takeaways. 

The digital experience is important to the public’s relationship with our government. 

According to Finch, the public increasingly interacts with our government through digital services and platforms, with about 1.7 billion visits being made to federal websites alone each month. Most people prefer to establish and maintain their relationship with federal agencies through websites, live chats, mobile apps and chatbots. Far fewer turn toward phone calls and in-person conversations to address their questions.  

To better meet the needs of the public, Finch claimed that the federal government must modernize and upgrade their digital tools and services.  

OMB’s guidelines contain seven key pillars that address and eliminate barriers to the digital experience. 

Finch stated that the OMB’s digital experience guidance builds on the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, which seeks to modernize websites, digitalize forms and services, accelerate the use of e-signatures, standardize and transition to centralized sharing services, and improve the customer experience. 

OMB’s guidelines were formed around seven main pillars, analytics, accessibility, brand, content, design, search and digitalization, and are meant to address the current obstacles that prevent a good digital experience.  

For example, navigating federal websites can be challenging as information is scattered across different platforms and competing with third-party sources. In addition, all the websites have different layouts and navigating tools, creating an inconsistent look and feel that causes a disjointed digital experience. 

According to Finch, standardizing the design of these websites would make them more consistent, accessible, understandable and intuitive for the customers using them. He stated that federal agencies can achieve this goal by following the regulations for 508 compliance, using a “.gov” domain, applying consistent agency branding, using plain language, deduplicating content and more. 

Federal communicators play a valuable role in creating a better digital experience 

Federal communicators can best support OMB’s guidelines and vision by “proactively and regularly assessing the content they are showing to the public.” Communicators need to understand what the public is looking for and think about the common questions that people may ask about the agency, its departments and its practices.  

Finch suggested that communicators should put those questions into the search engine and see what appears. They could then assess whether the information presented is relevant, outdated, duplicated or conflicting, and adjust their content and digital materials based on that evaluation. 

Federal communicators are essential to fulfilling OMB’s desire to create a more simple and comprehensive digital experience for the public. By listening to Finch’s advice and following the guidelines presented, a better experience is within reach. 

Watch “Federal Communicators Series: Delivering a Digital First Public Experience” on the Partnership YouTube channel, and sign up to receive updates about the upcoming events in our Federal Communicators Series.

Rebecca Dowling is a marketing intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.

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