Recommendations to the Secretariat of Planning of Social and Economic Development: “STP”
One of the Secretariat´s objective is to implement plans for the professional development of all citizens. The STP´s online Scholarship Service is one of the tools that they have to fulfill its goals. But this service requires improvement. A user-focused approach will increase the amount of applications each year. To achieve this, The STP should engage in A/B testing in order to understand the behavior of future applicants and design the service based on their needs.
In order to address the growing amount of scholarships that go to waste every year, the STP created a weekly newsletter and a website to publish the list of scholarships offered nation-wide. Current reports show that citizens are more informed; however, there was no considerable growth in the number of applicants for every scholarship.
Taking into account this issue, the STP´s new goal should be to increase the number of applications for every scholarship offered and thus reduce the amount of undistributed scholarships each year. To do so, we will have to start thinking as product managers and run this service based on what the users need. The secretariat will have to construe new solutions by running experiments, testing hypotheses, observing the users’ behavior and improving the service accordingly.
The absence of applications can either mean that users are not finding scholarships or that there is something wrong with the application process. Based on these assumptions, we can start by testing two hypotheses:
a) If redesigning the web page based on certain categories will increase engagement in the website and
b) If developing an online application system and adding an “apply now” option will increase the number of applications received.
To prove these two hypotheses, the STP will have to engage in A/B tests to assess how some versions of the webpage with the mentioned variations performs in contrast with others. The institution can do this in a cost-efficient way, by running instant tests with Optimizely, and ultimately deciding which of the variants increases participation.
The current web page contains a list of all the scholarships offered and the following filters: Undergraduate, Graduate, Post-Graduate, Name, Country and Offeror. The web page is simple and complete, but the design stalls the user experience. The STP has to experiment with the design and constantly improve the service. The STP can test various formats inexpensively; we can either eliminate the list replacing it with categories based on areas of interest (science, law, management etc.), or create geographic categories of scholarships. We can create more variations to test whether users increase engagement based on the location of scholarships, the areas of interest, or the type of grants.
The STP currently requires paper presentations of the Application Form, Recommendation Letters, and copies of Transcripts. After the deadline, only some candidates are called for an interview. This means that in this process, the applicant has to go to the government office twice. The STP can simplify this process by creating a complete online application, which will in turn likely increase participation. With simpler digital processes the applicant will have more incentives and thus even apply more times. In order to test these hypothesis, we can do A/B test on one scholarship; one variant with an online application and one without it, and later measure the results.
A user-focused approach assures the success of government digital services. It has been used by several services such as the Organ Donation registration in the U.K and Calfresh Food Stamp enrollment process in the U.S. Accordingly, it will also give results to the Scholarship application process of the STP.
The success of this service does not depend on making a few changes. The success depends on fulfilling the user´s need with the right changes. To achieve success, we need to engage in constant experiments and variations. By observing the user´s behavior and collecting data in this process we will learn which version attracts more applications, and we will be more fitted to take crucial steps towards the ultimate goal of allocating every scholarship offered. Only by experimenting, this Secretariat will be able to understand the user´s need and introduce the correct changes to the service.