ARLINGTON, Va. — The consulting firm Deloitte is hoping to use a new research center to increasingly partner with state, local and federal agencies to test out tech-driven solutions to problems surrounding everything from the usability of government services to the skyrocketing opioid addiction rates nationwide.
In an exclusive interview with StateScoop, the company unveiled its new “Center for Government Insights,” staffed by a group of researchers tasked with confronting a whole host of issues bedeviling the private sector.
“You might think of this more as a ‘do’ tank,” said Bill Eggers, the center’s executive director and the firm’s director of public sector research.
Indeed, Eggers doesn’t want the center to merely pump out dry white papers suggesting solutions for government agencies — though he notes that the center will certainly produce plenty of research papers on subjects relevant to the public sector. Instead, he hopes that the center can test its policy recommendations with the agencies themselves as often as possible.
“We’re making sure that we’re out in the field, really testing this stuff,” Eggers said.
He pointed to some work around using data analytics to craft “behavioral nudges” for government forms in New Mexico that the company worked on earlier this year as a key example of the types of projects he wants the center to work on.
Though Deloitte had long examined the issue, testing out what sorts of prompts on online forms proved effective in shaping people’s behavior, Deloitte wanted a real-world proving ground for that research. Accordingly, the team turned to New Mexico, a state that the firm had worked with in the past, to start testing the technology on the state’s unemployment insurance forms.
“We were really looking at how to cut down on ‘soft fraud,’ maybe somebody taking cash under the table and not reporting it, just making more money than they said they were,” Eggers said. “And we found that people are more likely to do that when they fill out forms online, so we started including these little pop-up boxes, asking people questions along the way.”
Eggers compares it to features in the tax preparation software “TurboTax,” giving users a gentle push to report their incomes more accurately. He said New Mexico saw a “dramatic impact” in how that simple tweak changed user behavior, and even made these online forms easier to use for people in the process by guiding them through filling them out.
He noted that other governments ended up asking Deloitte for help exploring similar projects, and he’s hoping to follow a similar model of piloting ideas before launching them across the country now that the center is up and running.
“The feedback loop can be much quicker when we do this and take advantage of our network,” Eggers said.
Yet Eggers stressed that he also wants to see the center’s researchers try to address problems by working across sectors to bring people of all different backgrounds together. In particular, since the firm works with governments, the medical industry and even law enforcement agencies, Eggers thinks the center is particularly well suited to combat something like the opioid addiction epidemic currently taking hold in rural America.
“We really envision taking a whole ecosystem approach to those sorts of problems, and for something like opioids, you really do need to get all these different entities involved to solve it,” Eggers said. “You need to pull all these different groups together.”
He even thinks Deloitte can “work very closely” with other groups trying to combat the spread of the drugs like the National Governors Association, and the pointed to the fact that the center has already released a paper suggesting a variety of data-driven strategies for governments to pursue to stem the flow of the drugs into communities.
The center itself may be new, but Eggers added that it has already published other papers with major federal implications as well, like one exploring how to address government problems through the lens of the customer’s experience.
He noted that the firm has also been trying to help the Obama administration with the transition to their successors by examining mergers and acquisitions in the private sector to see if there are any lessons to be learned.
Ultimately, Eggers said the center’s goal is to strike a balance between confronting problems the public sector is currently grappling with and the technologies governments are about to start embracing in earnest, like automation or the Internet of Things.
“We want to be on the cutting edge,” Eggers said.
Samantha Ehlinger contributed reporting to this article.