In our consumer lives, we expect technology to be easy, accessible, and satisfying. Billions of dollars and millions of hours have gone into business websites and apps that make it feel like they were designed just for us – seamlessly answering our questions, filling in information, and delivering just the product we want when we want it. Government tech has not always kept up with those expectations. Without the budgets and staff of the private sector, and with a mandate to serve everyone (including people with dial-up modems and flip phones), user experience can fall behind just keeping up with day-to-day management tasks.
That gap has started to narrow, as more agencies see their public services as a kind of delivery challenge and the benefits of applying “user-centered” approaches. After all, at the end of the day, government policies and the data systems behind them have to answer someone’s questions, whether that’s a lawmaker seeking to evaluate a policy impact or a permit holder looking to check on their application status. Focusing on that someone and what would work well for them can improve not only that person’s experience but also the overall system design, by helping information managers prioritize options that improve data quality and smooth data flows within and beyond the agency’s servers.
The Net Gains Alliance (NGA) identified user experience improvements as a key element of a modern fisheries data system back in 2016 in our first report. We envisioned something we called a “one-touch” interface where captains and fleet managers could access all the many permits and forms they need to keep fishing sustainably. The Data Team at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center saw that futuristic comment and said “challenge accepted.” Like other developers and data teams around the U.S. they’d been working on upgrading the “back-end” of their systems — things like storage, organization, and connecting data across different sources (like federal economic surveys and state gear permits) — to make it easier for researchers and fishery managers to do their jobs. Why not also look at how to make it better for the fishing community as well? Fishermen and buyers are usually the original data creators via their entries in landing receipts, electronic logbooks, or by turning on EM cameras. A better user experience could make it easier to capture that data right from the start.
NGA has made a grant to complement the NWFSC Data Team’s efforts to build more ‘fishermen-friendly’ data systems. The project is also supported by funds from NOAA’s Fisheries Information System program. Together, this public-private partnership will develop the framework for an easier, more streamlined process for the fishing community that ultimately leads to better data and more sustainable fisheries.
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