NYC On-Demand: Bridging the communication gap between the NYC government and its citizens

Local governments are responsible for shaping policies and programs that directly affect citizens. But with more than 89,000 local governments in the United States with no standardized way of communicating with citizens, it is often difficult for citizens to receive important updates, understand how their elected officials are working for them and find crucial information related to their local government.

Role
I collaborated on this project remotely with a team of two other UX researchers/ designers and took part in the research, ideation, wireframing, prototyping and usability testing
Goals
 The main goal was to facilitate digital connection between people and their city government in order to bridge the communication gap by providing a centralized, unbiased place to access civic information in plain terms as well as a way to interact with local government.
Duration
We had a total of five weeks to complete this project

Discover

•Exploratory Market Research
•Competitive Analysis
•Survey
•User Interviews

Define

•Affinity Diagram
•Problem Statement
•Design Principles
•Persona
•User Stories
•User Scenarios

Develop

•Low Fidelity Wireframes
•Low Fidelity Prototype
•Concept Testing
•Priority Matrix

Deliver

•Site Map
•Wireframe Kit
•Mid Fidelity Wireframes
•Mid Fidelity Prototype
•Usability Test Results
•Annotated Wireframes
•Future Recommendations

Discover

We created a research plan to strategize our research methods and determine our research goals.

Our plan consisted of conducting both market research as well as user research. Our hypothesis assumed that government sites were difficult to use so it was important to validate this assumption and if true, determine what exactly makes them difficult to use. We came up with the following research questions to help guide us

How is government information organized?
  • What differences are there between city/borough/district-wide information?
  • What websites currently exist?
What do users consider to be the most important government information to access?
  • How involved do users want to be in their local government?
  • Are users looking for information related to their city or borough?
  • Where in government do users want to voice their opinions?
Are current government sites outdated and difficult to use? Why?
  • How do users currently access government information?
  • How do those government websites currently organize information?
  • User pain/pleasure points when accessing government information
Do users want to be involved and informed about their local gov?
  • How can users participate in their local government?
  • What does transparency from the government mean to users?
  • How can the government integrate and listen to user voices using technology?

In order to gain a better understanding of the industry, our target audience and the structures, features and content of civic sites, we conducted exploratory research and a competitive analysis of websites that provided information pertaining to the New York government.

We focused mainly on sites where one could find information about New York. This included the New York City site, New York state site, Rochester site as well as the New York Times and Twitter.

The 311 section is one of the many groups of categories on the site. It shows numerous high level categories

NYC.gov is the main government site used to access information about New York City. In order to cater to the population of 8.3 million people, the site must cover a wide variety of information. In order to make information easier to find, it is split up into categories and then further categorized into subcategories. Important information, however, becomes buried and can take several clicks to find.

The New York state site covers a more higher level of state related stuff rather than city specific. Like NYC.gov, information gets buried deep beneath menus. In some cases, important information is almost impossible to find and not where one would expect it

Information on Absentee ballots took several clicks to get to and was found under the governor section. With the election coming up, it would be more intuitive to be on the front page

Key Takeaways

  • Mostly city and state specific sites
  • Very few neighborhood specific resources
  • There is room for more locally focused (neighborhood), and specialized site
  • Sites cluttered and difficult to navigate
  • Important information often buried
  • Present a broad range of information
  • General lack of hierarchy
  • Important information was often accessed most easily through searc
  •  

Next we conducted user research which included a survey to help narrow down the target audience as well as user interviews to gain insight into NYC resident's personal experiences with civic data

We surveyed 109 people over the age of 18 who either lived in New York or commuted. I spoke to 3 out of the 9 people interviewed who were recruited from reddit and social media. Interviews were remote and conducted over Zoom. Interview and the survey included questions about the following

  • Preferred method to obtain government information
  • Most important and relevant local data
  • Reasons for using government sites
  • Accounts of experiences accessing civic data
  • Opinions on how government shares information
  • Barriers from accessing data
  • Transparency in the government
  • Involvement in local government
  • Experiences contacting officials

Define

My teammates and I held an affinity diagram session to map out information from our research points and analyzed and synthesized our data into insights. We further grouped those insights together and came up with five actionable insight statements

Government sites are distasteful because they are aesthetically outdated
Users like to know up to date information but the government doesn’t give out relevant notifications or keep presented information updated

Users want to be more involved in their local community but the amount of information is overwhelming and difficult to find

 

Users prefer to access government information from sources other than government sites because they are organized in simpler ways and terms 

Users want more accessible and engaging ways to interact with the government so their voice can be heard

Elena, our persona, was created based on the synthesized findings and research on the target audience in order to help humanize and create empathy for the users

By creating user stories, we were able to put the needs and desired outcome of the users into focus to help determine functionality

Based on insights from the research, we created several user stories for a more in depth understanding of what the user wants and why. This provided us with a clear idea of what features were needed on the site to help the user achieve their goal.

User Stories
  • As an NYC citizen, I want to be more involved in the government so I can directly be involved in the decisions that affect myself and my community.
  • As an NYC citizen, I want to feel connected with my local officials so that I know who to contact when there is an issue.
  • As an NYC citizen, I want current updates about things like COVID-19 because it affects my everyday life.
  • As a commuter, I want to check my train status so I can plan my daily commute.
  • As a Brooklyn citizen, I want current information on my neighborhood so I can stay informed.
  • As a citizen, I want a more engaging and accessible government so I can advocate for my beliefs.
  • As a community member, I want to be more involved within my local community so I know what is going on around me.
  • As a taxpayer, I want more transparency in my government so I know just how my tax dollar is being used.
  • As a taxpayer, I want to vote for certain officials so that I have a say in where my tax money is going.
  • As a voter, I want more information on elected officials so I know who most values my beliefs

Develop

The user stories guided us into coming up with three task flows to explore different solutions by creating divergent concepts

Out of several rounds of sketchstorming, this flow was chosen and iterated on as the mid fidelity prototype
My designated task focused on contacting a government official. I began by sketch-storming some ideas, eventually evolved into a mid fidelity prototype created in Figma
•I made the decision to base the layout off of Twitter because interviewees indicated that Twitter was the main platform they used to find government information, but couldn’t always trust because it wasn’t an official source

•Users indicated that important and relevant information was often buried and difficult to find, so this design addresses this issue by providing the user with immediate access on the front page to what they indicate is most important through topic subscription

•Subscribing to relevant content also helps limit the amount of irrelevant updates users receive

Due to the lack of sites geared towards providing more local information, I focused this concept on providing users with three separate feeds for their subscribed content, information regarding their neighborhood as well as information regarding their borough. The page also displays the most recent updates in regards to their area.

•Officials have profiles on this site in which the user can subscribe to their page to get their updates

•Users have an easy way to directly message officials from this platform

Although officials have their own feeds for users to follow, users cannot like or comment on content in order to maintain credibility as Government Communication

•After the user sends a message, they receive an approximation of about how long it will take to receive a reply. This helps to create transparency

The user should receive a reply from the official or someone from their administration within to time stated. If delayed, they would receive a notification to keep them let them updated

In order to evaluate our divergent concepts and begin to converge ideas, my team held a Priority Matrix Workshop in order to determine what was most important for the MVP

We focused mostly on including information in the top right quadrant as that was the highest priority. Anything in the yellow closest to the edge was deemed the next most important and included for the most part.

We created a site map that outlined the information architecture of the site as well as the blueprint to guide in creation of the converged prototype.

Deliver

Outcomes

During testing, we asked 11 users to complete 3 tasks. Based on the feedback received, we determined the steps that would be needed in order to move forward.

A total of 11 users were asked to complete three tasks. Tests were done remotely with 3 being unmoderated and the rest being moderated. Think aloud as well as concurrent probing methods were used during each task  and after we asked followed up questions

Tasks
  • Imagine that you live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Use this site to view events happening in your neighborhood on July 21, and save one to your calendar.
  • Check for updates about new laws in NYC.
  • Check updates from local officials in your borough and contact Mathieu Eugene.
Users had trouble determining which navigation was the main navigation
Solution: Explore different ways to make main navigation more prominent and consider swapping locations or design

Some users felt the navigation was difficult to understand
Solution: Explore ways to simplify navigation. Moving forward with other solutions listed here will help accomplish this as well
Users were not fond of the calendar format
Solution: Explore and test different ways to present this information, such as a full calendar vs list

Users were frustrated during the calendar task because they had no idea if/when the task was complete
Solution:
Add icon for feedback so user knows when the task is complete
Users felt content in the legislation section was not consistent and structured making it difficult to find new laws
Solution: Explore ways to clearly distinguish new legislation
Users wanted to see more ways to contact local officials
Solution: Add more ways to contact official on their page (phone number, email)

Users wanted to be able to view a list of the officials in their area in addition to the updates to be more informed about who they are and what area(s) they represent.

Solution: Reformat to include a list of officials that can be filtered by position and location and A/B test to see what format users prefer  

The following indicates what tested well with users

  • Content separated into different categories.
  • Pop-up features when entering information.
  • Ability to change the location that the information covers.
  • Personalized content which was tailored to their needs and area
  • Provides local content which is the most relevant
  • Ability to directly contact an official
  • Helps to stay aware of what is going on in the area politically and the convenience of getting involved.
  • Updates on new laws and regulations, because this is not always known.

Project Takeaways

It’s much more insightful to have both moderated and unmoderated usability tests with complete strangers.
When a user is using a product, they won’t have someone guiding them through and unmoderated usability tests eliminate facilitator bias and non verbal queues

Make sure that the prototype is as functional as it can be
It’s important to prototype at least the navigation on each page so that users don’t get confused or discouraged when trying to interact with the site

Assure that tasks provide feedback so that the user knows when they’ve completed them
Without any feedback, users have trouble determining when a task is complete. This especially affected the unmoderated tests.