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Closing the Digital Experience Gap

June 10, 2024 4 minute read
Insights from the Acquia/CDG Digital Government Survey on the challenges government websites face in creating accessible, engaging digital experiences

In recent years, government agencies have made significant progress in providing compelling digital experiences to constituents. But new research commissioned by Acquia and conducted by the Center for Digital Government (CDG) reveals that there is still significant room for improvement, particularly in accessibility.

Survey results: Perception vs. reality

In the survey, more than 70% of government respondents rated their websites as "good" or "excellent" in terms of accessibility. And at first glance, this may seem like an encouraging finding — but unfortunately, the reality is not so rosy.

A separate 2023 study by the American Foundation for the Blind paints a very different picture:

  • 75% of blind, low-vision and deaf-blind respondents reported facing frequent or occasional barriers when trying to access government benefits like SNAP or SSI through websites
  • 79% encountered accessibility issues with mobile apps

This stark discrepancy between the survey results and the real-world experiences of people with disabilities points to a significant disconnect. Government officials may believe their digital offerings are sufficiently accessible, but the on-the-ground truth appears to be quite different.

Room for improvement

Accessibility wasn’t the only topic discussed in the survey; respondents also shared their attitudes and thoughts about the user experience their organization’s website provided. And similar to the accessibility results, survey respondents indicated their organization’s websites had room for improvement: 

  • Nearly 29% said that their jurisdiction's websites' overall look and feel was somewhat or very inconsistent.
  • Only 37% shared that their website’s overall user experience was very effective.
  • More than 70% indicated that improving the website’s user experience was their top priority.
  • Nearly one-fifth (18%) of respondents said it was somewhat or very difficult to customize their organization’s website.

Clearly, while accessibility is a critical aspect of the digital experience, it isn’t the only factor that contributes to a successful user experience. Organizations must take a holistic approach to create truly useful, engaging digital properties. 

Improving accessibility and user experience

So what can we do to close this gap and make government websites and apps work better for all constituents, regardless of ability? Our survey highlighted several key challenges:

  • Difficulty keeping content up-to-date (34%)
  • Lack of integration with other systems (36%)
  • Complex navigation and information architecture (30%)

Addressing these pain points will go a long way toward improving accessibility and user experience for everyone. Specifically, government agencies should:

  • Embrace low-code/no-code content creation tools and modular content structures, allowing non-technical content providers to deploy new sites quickly and easily update, edit and publish content. 
  • Standardize on a cloud-based, API-friendly content management platform that allows your technology to evolve as your organization’s needs grow.
  • Maintain consistent design elements and user interface components across web portfolios, including developing a style guide and pre-built design templates.
  • Conduct regular accessibility assessments and prioritize continuous improvement, understanding that accessibility is not a “one-and-done” task but an ongoing activity.

By tackling these challenges head-on, government organizations can create more accessible, constituent-centric online experiences. 

The business case for creating compelling digital experiences

In the report, former Utah CTO Dave Fletcher, now a senior fellow at CDG, emphasized the tangible ROI of making online services easy to use: "Every [web] transaction that we could do effectively online saved about $14 per transaction. In a large state with millions of people, you're saving millions of dollars."

But the implications go far beyond cost savings. As government agencies embrace the power of compelling, accessible digital experiences, they have an unprecedented opportunity to redefine their relationship with their constituents. By creating online services that are intuitive, engaging, and inclusive, agencies can facilitate greater trust, transparency, and collaboration between government and the people it serves. 

Ready to create digital experiences that truly work for everyone? It will take the right combination of leadership, skills development, and modern technology. For more insights and detailed guidance, download the full report

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