Tel Aviv-based startup Insights.US is helping the US State Department and USA.gov, the US government website, find ways to reform the nation’s passport issuing process.
Using the crowd-consulting software developed by Insights.US, the USA.gov website has been asking people how it can improve the passport application process to make it simpler and easier. The US Department of State, which oversees the passport process for Americans, estimates that over 20 million US citizens will either renew or apply for a passport this year.
“We want this experience to be faster, less confusing, and take less effort,” said Carl Siegmund, a leader of the customer experience team of Passport Services on the website. “Please let us know, how can we improve the passport application process to make it simpler and easier?”
Some of the 957 answers collected to date suggest providing better service, adding additional pages to the passport, making the website more user-friendly and staying open longer. The aim is to use these insights to help come to a satisfactory decision.
Founded in 2010, Insights.US has developed a crowd-consulting tool that helps executives of organizations consult with communities they are targeting, helping them to make decisions based on input they get from using the wisdom of crowd. Not any crowd, but the specific community they are interested in.
“Ours is a decision making tool,” said Gal Alon, the founder and CEO of Insights.US in an interview. “Turning customers, employees and citizens into advisors during the decision-making process helps organizations understand what really works. In the end, it is the executives who makes the decisions, but it is their communities or constituencies that help them get there.”
This is how it works: businesses or ministries set up their consulting site and then define an open-ended question they want to get advice about. “Popups guide you through the process, it is a self-service tool,” said Alon. The software offers you different ways to reach out to the community you want to target: either through social networks or via emails or through a PR campaign.
Executives define their goal and invite stakeholders to weigh in and share advice. Participants are also asked to complete simple analytical tasks that will help the technology to generate qualitative insights for future use. Decision makers will then get concise advice and stakeholders become a community. Once decisions are made, participants receive a personal update on their own impact.
“When it comes to strengthening the public sector, the Federal Government looks for new ways to achieve better results for the people we serve,” the White House said in a blog post in which it mentions the passport review plan. “One promising tool that has gained momentum across numerous sectors in the last few years is the adoption of feedback loops. Systematically collecting data and learning from client and customer insights can benefit organizations across all sectors.”
Insights.US has been working with most of the Israeli government ministries over the past five yeas on a number of projects, including helping the Education Ministry find a new way to measure the success of 4,000 school principals and the Health Ministry with its policies on how to reduce health inequalities. The Health Ministry requested online advice from patients, doctors, and families from the ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations on what problems they encounter and what should be done to help solve the gaps, Alon said.
Insights.US is also currently helping a leading synagogue in New York determine whether policies on interfaith marriage should be changed. “They are using Insights software to engage with their community and come to a decision based on the input they will get,” said Alon.
The company has facilitated 400 projects for 201 organizations, and has engaged some 500,000 stakeholders, defined as the people who have a direct interest in the issue at hand.
“Like navigation apps, we offer leaders to define their goal and get professional advice from their community,” said Alon. “Our tool enables leaders to engage with their stakeholders to better understand how to navigate to their destination together. The way decisions are made is changing. Eighty-two percent of decisions have already changed following the community insights.”
Executives decide if they want their project made public or private and who they want to reach out to, said Alon, who got the idea for the company when he worked on policy reforms for the Prime Minister’s Office in 2006 to 2009, under Ehud Olmert. “I realized that we can plan all we want, but we were missing tools to get community insights about what works.”
The privately owned company, with offices in Washington, DC, Berlin and Tel Aviv, has revenues of around $800,000 a year and is profitable, said Alon. It is now starting to raise funds from investors to help expand its reach with customers.