Shipping in Government: 5 Things We Learned from Vote.USA.Gov

Smita Satiani
Jan 28, 2016 · 4 min read

By Kate McCall-Kiley, Luke Keller, and Adam Bonnifield, 2015–2016 Presidential Innovation Fellows

As Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs), we’re serving 12 month ‘tours of duty’ to help bring private sector innovation into government.

In advance of National Voter Registration Day, our team was asked to help the 51 million unregistered voters in the U.S. understand and access their rights as citizens. Working alongside the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology (OCSIT), we helped to build Vote.USA.gov: a simple tool that enables any citizen to easily find out how to vote in their state of residence.

Here is what we learned:

  1. Government CAN Ship Fast

How long do you think it takes to ship in government? Would you guess 1 year? 6 months? Would you believe us if we told you two weeks?

We were asked to be involved with a (very) limited amount of time until National Voter Registration Day, so we had to move quickly. It started with an alarming statistic: In the 2008 elections, the voting rate for all eligible people of voting age was only 64 percent, while the voting rate for people who were registered to vote was 90 percent. It showed that registration is crucial to turnout — that people need an easier way to find out how to actually register.

In collaboration with 18F and OCSIT, we launched Vote.USA.gov in just two weeks. With so many stakeholders being able to ship so quickly, it makes us wonder what else we can ship in the same amount of time or faster.

2. Shipping in Government is Critically Important

Amidst all of the challenges of quickly shipping in government, getting something out the door is the right thing to do because of the very real opportunities to tangibly change the lives of so many others. Since the launch of the site on September 23rd, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people come through the site to get registered (with maybe just a little help from the President and the First Lady!).

3. Style Standards = Faster and Better Shipping

The U.S. Web Design Standards are enabling government to ship faster than ever, and look amazing while doing it. We were able to go from sketch to prototype using pre-baked styles that are also accessibility friendly. Not only were we able to ship faster, but we were able to ship better.

Even further, imagine a beautifully designed and cohesive experience across the government’s digital ecosystem. That’s what we’re working toward.

4. Shipping is Only as Good As What’s Measured

We believe that shipping isn’t just about building, but testing and improving the things we build over time. So once Vote.USA.gov went live, our work didn’t end. The day after we launched, we started experimenting with changes to our design and measuring how these variants impacted our main goal — increasing the likelihood Americans sign up to vote.

Are we inspired to vote by positive or negative language? Which layouts and backgrounds get us to click? To better uncover these insights, we worked with the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), based in the General Service Administration’s Office of Evaluation Sciences, to measure the impact of these design decisions on our site’s conversion rate, and learned how the tiniest improvements can add up to meaningful real-world impacts on people’s lives.

5. Collaboration Between Public and Private Sector Amplifies Impact

Since our launch, Vote.USA.gov has developed an initial pilot partnership with Facebook to help direct citizens in upcoming primary states to Vote.USA.gov. Facebook is using their tools to dramatically increase awareness of state registration deadlines and encouraging their users to let their voices be heard in the upcoming elections. With the help of this Facebook pilot, more people registered to vote in one day than did so in the entire previous two weeks. With more partners, we hope to expand our reach even further.

With every high quality product we ship, we’re hoping to not only change the way citizens interact with government, but to also drastically change people’s perception of government as a center for forward-thinking innovation, user-centered design, and great products.

You can help spread the word by sharing Vote.USA.gov with others, help us ship more citizen-centric products by applying to become a Presidential Innovation Fellow here, or join us as a partner by tweeting us directly @InnovFellows!


Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation

As an alumni organization for all former Presidential Innovation Fellows, the PIF Foundation serves to preserve the history and development of the program over time.

Smita Satiani

Written by

Moonshots at X, former dep director Presidential Innovation Fellows, animal person

Presidential Innovation Fellows Foundation

As an alumni organization for all former Presidential Innovation Fellows, the PIF Foundation serves to preserve the history and development of the program over time.

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