Usability in Government Systems — A Forthcoming Book

Just before US Thanksgiving of 2011, my co-editor and I delivered to our publisher the manuscript of a new book on usability in government systems. Two and a half years after Dianne Murray suggested doing a book and we chose the topic — and six weeks after I began the most intensive period of work in my life (on the book) — we completed the manuscript and sent it off. And so was born Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants.

Image of book coverHere are some highlights, adapted and slightly modified from the book’s introduction:

Bookstores abound with offerings on “usability” and “user experience” (2,352 and 293 search results, respectively, on as of this writing). The number doubles for “government contracting” (4,275 results) and jumps by almost 50 times for “government systems” (106,957 — again, as of this writing). This book, however, is unique. A search on “usability and government” does find 89 titles — books on e-government that mention usability as a success factor; government publications that offer usability information related to a single domain, such as web design or aviation cockpit displays; conference proceedings that include academic research papers on usability in e-government. But not one of these titles covers the topic broadly or focuses on it exclusively.

Yet countless citizens worldwide use government web sites and other systems to obtain information from their government and to do business with it. Tremendous numbers of government employees conduct their nation’s business via desktop computer and intranet sites. It is impossible to say exactly how many people will use a government system themselves during their lifetimes, but it is a safe bet that these systems will touch everyone’s life in some way.

But how usable are these systems? How consistent and predictable are the web sites for those who have to navigate the maze of government information and online services? How well do internal applications support the productivity of  government employees? Functionality apart, how well do government systems actually serve the citizenry?

The United States Government is the largest consumer of information technology in the world. In the summer of 2011 the White House reported that the government had a shocking number — more than 24, 000 — of different web sites. President Obama announced the Campaign to Cut Waste, whose charter includes finding ways of presenting the public with Web-based information and services that are better connected and more consistently presented.

Other governments have had similar concerns. In March of 2004 the United Kingdom launched DirectGov to consolidate access to much of its national government information for citizens, and in January of 2007 it announced a decision to eliminate almost 60% of the 951 sites it had at the time. As of this writing, the United Nations has issued two reports on e-government, and the Association for Computing Machinery has held several annual conferences on e-government, in whose 2011 conference Dianne and I participated (along with our colleague Scott Robertson, who wrote the foreword to the book).

Almost every national government in the world has at least one public web site, and we would be surprised to learn of a government that didn’t have computers, at least in its national offices.

And yet no book exists that addresses usability in government systems. Until now.

This is the first book that concentrates on the role of usability in government systems. It covers designing government systems to provide effectiveness, efficiency, and a pleasant and satisfying experience to the people who use them, whether they are interacting with their government from the outside or working for the government on the inside.

The book’s 24 chapters, each written by one or more experts in the topic, cover topics as varied as open government, plain language, accessibility, biometrics, service design, internal vs. public-facing systems, and cross-cultural issues, as well as integrating usability and user-centered design activities into the government procurement process. It speaks to three audiences:

  • government and contractor professionals responsible for government system projects, who know they need to improve usability and want information on how to make that happen
  • usability and UX professionals looking to work in government systems and needing information about the constraints of that environment
  • policymakers and legislators who are in a position to influence government procurement processes to make it easier to achieve usability

The book takes an international perspective and includes many case studies from government systems around the world.

Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants can help increase government cost effectiveness, operational efficiency, and public engagement. It will be published by Morgan Kaufmann Press in May of 2012. It can be preordered from Amazon here. (I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d use this link, as the royalties are not high and this gives me a small commission as well.)

Update: The book is now shipping, and it’s available on Kindle.

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  1. jennifer watkins
    Posted 6 December 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Is it possible to provide the ISBN number, if available?

  2. Posted 6 December 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Jennifer –

    Thanks for asking! The ISBN is 978-0-12-391063-9. (As I write this — December 6 — it’s not yet available on Amazon.)

  3. Posted 8 January 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    The book is available for preorder on Amazon!

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