Grants.Gov: The Federal Government Moves Its Grants Process to the Web Using a Disciplined E-service Design Approach
Grants.gov is transforming the Federal Government’s grants process by creating a single electronic storefront for searching and applying for grants offered by 26 federal agencies. The task was monumental, as each agency had its own unique paper application process or a sophisticated electronic process already in place prior to the launch of Grants.gov. This necessitated major changes in technology infrastructure and processes to adopt the new system.
Grants.gov is widely recognized as a success story among e-gov initiatives, receiving the prestigious 2004 FOSE Showcase of Excellence Award because it represents the finest implementation of citizen-centric electronic government. One of the keys to Grants.gov’s success is its continual focus on the customer throughout the product development process and implementation of a strong marketing program to help ensure adoption.
The Grants.gov Story
It was clear from the beginning that input from potential users, both grant applicants and grant making agencies, was critical to designing a user-friendly and effective system. However, it was also apparent that gaining cooperation from all areas of government, including oversight groups, IT, policy, and grants administration, was key to system acceptance. To meet these goals, Rockbridge (working as a subcontractor to IBM Business Consulting) employed a disciplined research process for designing an e-service.
As a first step, Rockbridge conducted a series of stakeholder interviews and workshops to identify needs and expectations for the system from the perspective of key influencers. We also conducted qualitative research with grant applicants and grant making agency personnel to validate the design requirements for the system. The design requirements were developed based on the objectives of the initiative and results of the stakeholder interviews and workshops. These first two phases of the research helped create buy-in to the process, as well as prioritize development efforts.
A pilot of the system was developed upon completion of this initial research. After development, Rockbridge conducted navigational focus groups with grant applicants and grant making agencies. During the focus groups, Rockbridge reviewed the pilot in detail, discussing respondents’ opinions of the look and feel, navigation, and content. The results were used to refine the system, and prepare for usability testing.
After the system was launched, Rockbridge began conducting quarterly satisfaction tracking surveys. The purpose of the survey is to ensure the system continues to meet users’ needs as new features and functionality are added to the ever-evolving system.
While user-focused product development was a key driver of Grants.gov’s success, Grants.gov had another challenge in encouraging initial trial of the system. A major marketing and branding effort was undertaken to drive usage and adoption of the system. Just prior to launch, Rockbridge conducted a baseline change management survey. This survey was designed to measure awareness of the Grants.gov initiative, the effects of initial communications efforts, and the market’s perceptions of the grants process.
The marketing research process employed by Grants.gov helped ensure its success. The research effort saved the Government time and money by focusing design efforts on users’ needs from the beginning of the process. Designers were able to prioritize feature roll-out and help ensure user-friendliness of the system because users’ feedback was included in each step of the design process. Stakeholder groups believed in the success of the initiative from the beginning because their opinions were included in the process. They evangelized the system, helping to increase awareness and eventual usage of the system. Finally, a process for continuous improvement was implemented to ensure the effort stays on track and meets users’ needs over time.