Federal Government Uses Mobile Accessibility to Increase Engagement With Citizens

On Tuesday, FedScoop and the General Services Administration (GSA) presented MobileGov: Citizen Engagement on the Go to explain how the federal government is using mobile development in creating innovative technology to better communicate with citizens.

Why Mobile?

A dilemma shared by both federal agencies and public companies is finding low-cost methods to reach the most people on the communications platforms they’re already using.

One of the ideas the federal government is pursuing is the creation of new mobile sites and applications to reach a wider audience.

Gwynne Kostin, Director of Mobile, Office of Citizen Services & Innovative Technologies for the GSA, cited statistics from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, saying that “Six in 10 American adults now go online wirelessly using either a mobile phone or a laptop with a wireless internet connection.” Additionally, “96 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds own a cell phone.”

To address this opportunity, the GSA announced phase two of the Making Mobile Gov Project, where, starting today, it will feature one challenge facing mobile government each day for the next 10 working days to “start a dialogue among government mobility thought leaders and innovators on how to approach each issue.”

Innovations in Mobile Apps

The Innovations in Mobile Apps Panel. From left: Gwynne Kostin, Kim Taylor, Haley Van Dyck and Adam Burstein.

The Innovations in Mobile Apps Panel. From left: Gwynne Kostin, Kim Taylor, Haley Van Dyck and Adam Burstein.

During the GSA Innovations in Mobile Apps Panel, Kostin asked three federal employees why their agencies decided to create mobile apps or sites, with the general consensus: accessibility and cost savings.

Adam Burstein, IT specialist in the Office of Innovation, Office of the Chief Information Officer for the Social Security Administration (SSA), stated that the Social Security Administration’s baby naming app was an eye-opening experience because mobile apps were so accessible to users with disabilities. Burstein stated that the SSA tested its app with a visually impaired person to confirm that it complied with Section 508 accessibility standards.

Kim Taylor, Director of Web Services, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), discussed the agency’s implementation of a mobile version of “Ask Karen,” the virtual FSIS representative, and how it saved the FSIS a great deal of money.

“We can’t hire five people to answer all these questions in one day or one hour,” said Taylor. “The return on investment was close to a million dollars” and a reduction in human resources.

The database also serves up information 24 hours a day; in a digital world, instant gratification can make all the difference in food preparation.

Several public- and private-sector speakers also presented apps that were built with open government data.

Sonja Batten, Assistant Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Mental Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), presented the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Coach application, built specifically to help veterans identify PTSD and obtain information about it, even if they don’t want or know how to approach a physician. Available for iOS and Android mobile devices, the Section 508-compliant app will read back information to the user so that it is easier to comprehend.

Adjusting Content Strategies

Though citizens are able to access more information using mobile devices and public locations that provide wireless Internet access, the increased use of mobile devices raises some caveats, including formatting limitations when compared to standard websites.

According to Taylor, mobile government will lead to a reduction in elaborate websites. Haley Van Dyck, Director of Citizen Engagement for the FCC New Media Team, agreed, stating that the FCC content strategy has already changed based on the increase in mobile use.

Do you think the government is moving in the right direction when it comes to mobile innovation? Are “entertainment” apps such as the baby-naming one comparable to the more serious PTSD Coach app? To what extent should the public have input into applications’ initial development?



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