Going beyond the status quo to improve online services

FCW.com reports that the House is seeking new technology to better reach Spanish speakers.

FCW.com reports that the House is seeking new technology to better reach Spanish speakers. Specifically, they're researching commercial human-based and machine-based foreign-language interpreter systems that will, for the time being, provide only English-to-Spanish services.

The move will save lawmakers from the trouble of hiring bilingual staff to update FirstGov en Espanol, a Spanish-language version of the FirstGov Web portal.

Improving the site that services the fastest growing minority group in the nation is a good move, but relying on systems to simply convert content targeted at the general public may not serve the Spanish-speaking community who may have different needs. Employing culturally savvy bilingual staff to monitor, engage with, and edit the site would take the extra step to add value and increase the uptake of the online services.  

It should not stop there either.  Overall, e-government initiatives could be doing more. Gartner says (client reg. req.) that governments must keep up with the times and experiment with new ways to engage people online. This means leveraging blogs, wikis, collective intelligence, and online games to deliver intangible value. "By 2010, more than 80 percent of governments that focus their online services on creating intangible value for their citizens will experience at least twice as much uptake and a fivefold increase in loyalty to their online services than those that focus only on convenience and tangible value (0.8 probability)," according to Gartner.

Governments are usually slow to respond to shifting societal, technological, and behavioral trends. In the case of extending online services to minority groups with interpretation services, I think it’s a half-hearted effort. A more comprehensive strategy would concurrently seek to deliver intangible value to users.