The Case for Usability in Government
The following templates, forms, and examples are organized by steps in the usability process. They can be customized for your organization's usability needs. All of these are in the public domain and can be freely downloaded.
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Usability Effort in the Government
The federal government is the largest single producer, collector, consumer, and disseminator of information in the United States. More and more citizens are reaching out to government to find information and services to improve their daily lives. The PEW Research Center found that 97 million Americans, or 77 percent of Internet users, took advantage of e-government in 2003, whether that meant going to government Web sites or emailing government officials. This represented a growth of 50 percent from 2002.
Given its large presence in citizens' daily lives, it essential that government agencies not only involve citizens in developing online Web sites, but also measure and report how a Web site is meeting users' needs. Usability helps you do this! By embracing usability now, government agencies will be helping themselves operate more effectively and efficiently in the future and prepare for the following:
- Visits to government Web sites will continue to grow in the future. More visits = more work, questions, emails, complaints, and phone calls, especially if the site isn't easy to learn, use, or responsive to users' needs.
- Federal Web managers will be held to a higher standard as government initiatives like the E-Government Act and the President's Management Agenda request agencies to show citizen-centric approaches and implement performance-based measures.
- Resources are diminishing. We're being asked to do more with less. Designing Web sites the right way the first time sets a foundation for more efficient improvements long-term.
Importance of Usability
The importance of usability has grown in government and is considered a best practice by the OMB-supported Web Managers Advisory Council for ensuring Web sites are easy to use and useful. Forward-thinking Web managers at many agencies, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, General Services Administration, Social Security Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Homeland Security, and the Internal Revenue Service, are making sure usability is built into the Web development lifecycle. It's being incorporated into e-government initiatives, public-facing Web sites, Web applications, intranets, and hand-held devices to ensure they are highly responsive and meet both agency and user needs. For examples of successful usability Web projects, visit Usability Lessons Learned.
Getting Usability Buy-in
In order to truly get usability instituted into an organization and not be an afterthought, consider the following approaches:
Change the mindset of management from considering usability as an extra step to understanding the return on investment (ROI). By investing in usability, many agencies have increased users' ability to find information faster with higher levels of satisfaction; reduced calls and emails requesting information and help; and saved money by reducing costly fixes early. For more information, visit Usability.gov's links to: Can usability be measured? and How can I show that usability engineering saves money?
Identify someone who you can educate about usability and its importance to meeting business goals and objectives. Also, the more you learn about your agency's business goals and needs, the better you'll be able to sell usability and its impact.
Invite colleagues who are already employing usability at their agency to present the impact to your management. Many agencies investing in usability have data to show dramatic improvements in Web design and success stories. Also important is sharing video footage of usability tests, if allowable, that demonstrates the value of users' experiences on a Web site
Encourage management to observe usability testing. Observation of user behavior is very persuasive. The user perspective is just about impossible for Web site production teams and content developers to see without talking to or observing actual users.
Remind your decision-makers that usability testing doesn't have to be expensive. Big problems in the design are obvious after just a few user tests. Jakob Neilsen says, "You sit somebody down in front of the screen and see immediately if they click on the right button or the wrong one. As soon as you see three people make the same mistake, you're better off just fixing it."