The federal government is officially encouraging the public to rate their experiences with the biggest, most frustrating bureaucracy to deal with in the country — just like they would review the new Thai restaurant down the street.
Taxpayers will be able to weigh in, in real time, on whether they waited in line 20 minutes or two hours to renew their passports; whether the airport security screeners they dealt with were surly or sweet; whether the U.S. Forest Service worked fast enough to put out wildfires spreading in their state.
That’s the goal of a new initiative the General Services Administration’s DigitalGov team launched last week. Yelp, the popular Web and mobile service that helps people find local businesses by ratings and is best known for restaurant reviews, is now open for official government use.
GSA is opening the door to agencies to launch new Yelp pages to listen and respond to comments from the public, then use the data to drive improvements to services.
“This allows agencies to go in and engage, and dedicate customer service staff to monitoring the feedback,” said Justin Herman, who leads social media for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.
Right now, the new Yelp section for “Public Services & Government” is a collection of reviews of hundreds of federal and state tourist destinations and buildings, including memorials, courthouses, motor vehicle agencies, embassies, fire departments, landmarks and post offices.
But GSA is counting on the federal agencies that interact with the public the most to use the service to get much-needed feedback about customer service, an increasing focus of the Obama administration’s digital strategy.
“We’re moving into a world in which social media is the charge that fuels the circuit of collaborative public service,” Herman said.
Agencies can launch their own Yelp pages, or claim existing ones that the Yelp community already has created.
As part of the terms of service with the government, Yelp will not display third-party commercial ads on an agency page.
The idea to get feedback from Yelp is an extension of an agreement the Web site made last January with the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which uses the site for a mobile drunk driving prevention app called SaferRide, designed to save lives over the holiday season.
The government isn’t paying Yelp to host government agencies, but Herman said that agencies that decide to use the site need to invest in monitoring what people are saying about them.