Over the past five years of building digital services with local governments around the country, we’ve identified seven practices that, when in place, help government work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century.

1. Start with people’s needs

Begin projects by conducting research with real people to understand who they are, what they need, and how they behave. Design programs and services around those needs, continuously test with users, and refine policy and processes accordingly.

Read our guide on User Centered Design and learn how to:

  • Develop your research plan
  • Conduct interviews to understand user needs
  • Recruit for and facilitate user testing

2. Ensure everyone can participate

Create ways for every community member to productively participate in decisions about issues that affect them. Proactively reach out to a cross section of your community, communicate using language that’s easy to understand, and engage people through diverse channels that meet people where they are.

Read our Community Engagement toolkit and develop practices that will help you:

  • Ensure you are reaching a cross section of your community
  • Make information easy to find and understand
  • Collect community input through a variety of channels
  • Create feedback loops that demonstrate the impact of community input

3. Start small and continuously improve

When you are building or buying government technology, start small and get a working Minimum Viable Product (MVP) into people's hands as early as possible, test with users frequently, and make continuous improvements based on feedback.

Read our guide on Iterative Development and learn how to:

  • Align around concrete goals
  • Set up your project sprints, including planning, standups and retrospectives
  • Show regular, visible progress through defined product stages

4. Use real-time data to inform decisions

Set key metrics to determine if programs and services are regularly meeting objectives and analyze the data to gain insights and drive actions that help improve community outcomes.

Check out these resources on Data-driven Decision Making and learn how to:

  • Conduct a baseline analysis
  • Set clear metrics for success
  • Monitor your data to see how you are doing
  • Implement incremental changes and check for improvements
  • Share your analytics with the public

5. Default to open

Work in the open, proactively publish public data online, and collaborate with the community to help make programs and services better for everyone.

Read our Open Government playbook and develop practices that will help you:

  • Open data in standardized and digital formats
  • Get started using free and open source software
  • Do your work in the open, while preserving privacy and security
  • Invite the community to help

6. Build the right team

Invest in people who value the role of digital at all levels of the organization. Increase tech skills and literacy among staff, hire new tech talent where it’s needed, and build multidisciplinary teams focused on delivery.

Read our Team Building toolkit and find resources that will help you:

  • Build digital skills and literacy within your workforce
  • Understand the difference between IT and digital
  • Hire tech talent
  • Build multidisciplinary teams focused on delivery
  • Bring in the right partners across agencies and community groups

7. Make informed technology choices

Understand where, when, and how to build, buy, or use existing technology in order to run efficient and effective operations, and deliver services online that meet the needs of the people using them.

Find resources to improve your Procurement processes and develop practices that will help you:

  • Write RFPs that allow for iterative development
  • Simplify the process for procuring technology
  • Make working with the city more accessible to local businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Effectively evaluate government technology