Brazil’s gov.br website offers almost 5.000 public services and has more than 200 million monthly page views on average. With so many service options, it’s paramount to make them easily available. Under that mindset, the Ministry of Economy developed two important improvements to its usability: the first is the use of AI to recommend services based on the citizen's browsing history. The second was creating User profiles as a way of finding services based on the citizens’ journeys.
Citizens depend exclusively on the State to have access to various services and rights. The creation of the gov.br portal represented a transformative milestone in this offer, as well as in the digitization efforts, unifying channels and facilitating access. Even with this evolution, the perception of usability on the portal remained below expectations: the offer of services is extensive, with almost 5.000 available on gov.br. On one hand, this represents a vast offer for citizens. But without an adequate form of categorization, there is the risk that the user will not be able to find what they need.
This was evidenced by the portal's high bounce rates (when citizens access gov.br and don't click on anything before leaving), in addition to low service request rates. Apart from the search option, the only way to find public services was through non-intuitive categories, centered on the structure of government rather than the real need of the citizen. Based on this context, the project to improve personalization and the citizen's relationship with the government proposed two initiatives. The first was the categorization of public services around user profiles, in a more logical and citizen-friendly structure. The second was the development, in partnership with Serpro (a public Brazilian IT company), of a service recommendation engine using Artificial Intelligence.
The project solves relevant problems such as:
- the difficulty of finding services relevant to the citizen considering an extensive basket of options;
- how citizens can better understand their journey while dealing with the government;
- how citizens can find relevant services that they may not know about.
The project's objectives include improving the citizen's journey, reducing friction, increasing satisfaction and usability and, thus, enabling the full exercise of citizenship.
The initiative to create User Profiles aimed to improve the experience of finding public services by organizing offers based on specific moments in the lives of our citizens in order to facilitate the use of relevant services at each moment. So far, 7 profiles have been made available: Retired, Student, Entrepreneur, Driver, Worker, Farmer and Tourist. About 1.3 million services were initiated after accessing one of the user profiles, and more than half of those who access one of the profiles end up requesting a service, which demonstrates its high utility. For comparison purposes, this number is 35% among those who access the original categorization used on the gov.br portal, which is centered around government structures.
SERVICE RECOMMENDATION USING AI
The recommendation of public services using Artificial Intelligence in the Gov.BR Portal aims for the government to be proactive in relation to the real needs of the citizen, reducing the time spent finding public services and increasing their satisfaction. It uses associative rules to offer services that may be of interest to citizens based on their browsing history. In practice, it considers the behavior of other users in relation to accessing service pages to generate a list of options based on what has been commonly browsed in tandem. By doing this, we can offer services to a citizen who may not remember (or maybe didn't even know they existed), and this will appear in the areas of the website where the Service Recommendation is implemented. More than 51 million views to recommendations have already been recorded and, currently, about 25% of service requests through the gov.br portal's homepage originate from a service that was recommended using AI.
BENEFITS, COURSE OF ACTION AND FUTURE INTENTIONS
The project offers a large-scale benefit and potentially reaches every citizen who accesses public services through the gov.br portal. In the future, our intention is to evolve the project on both fronts: on one hand, improve the intelligence behind service recommendations and make it multichannel, including proactive notifications in the gov.br App and other available communication channels. On the other hand, our intention is to increase the attractiveness of user profiles by offering more options and also by using AI to make this offer more contextualized.
The course of action was defined from understanding citizens' needs when dealing with the government. This was done through user interviews as well as extensive data analysis on the gov.br portal and was inspired, among others, by the gov.uk portal and its simple, life-event-driven interface. Therefore, the relevance of the initiative for the evolution of public services is evident. The creation of user profiles provided citizens with a simple, pleasant interface designed for their needs. And the service recommendations help citizens find, within the list of almost 5.000 public services, a contextualized and targeted offer.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The project is innovative in improving Brazil’s citizens experience because:
(1) It uses Artificial Intelligence to recommend public services. Despite being a relatively common practice in e-commerce sites, there is nothing similar in the Brazilian government. By offering related services that the user may not even know about, this initiative enhances the exercise of citizenship.
(2) The creation of user profiles on the gov.br portal is innovative compared to the previous model centered around the government's structure (like transportation, work, etc). This original form of categorization, by the way, remains in the portal, but it now has a secondary, less prominent role.
This helps citizens in their journey by organizing services considering their own needs. In short, the project offers new ways to organize and facilitate the provision of public services to Brazilian citizens, making their journey simpler and more pleasant.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Currently, the project is in the implementation phase. The functionalities are already available on the gov.br portal, but we have been evaluating the development of improvements in the AI engine - for example, to consider other elements of the citizen's relationship with the government in addition to browsing service pages. In the case of user profiles, we have focused on creating new categories - the service was launched with 3 profiles and we had already reached 7 by October 2022.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The innovation implementation had several collaborators:
- Serpro, a public IT company that developed the recommendation engine;
- The National School of Public Administration (ENAP), which supported the development of the user profiles project;
- Federal agencies, including Ministries and Secretariats, which fully supported the preparation of user profiles;
- Citizens, through interviews and workshops that helped understand their difficulties and expectations in dealing with the government.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The project had a significant positive impact on different stakeholders. Today, there are 138 million citizens with an active account on the gov.br portal. All of them are potentially benefited, as the innovations are implemented on the gov.br portal's homepage, on service pages and also on the pages of government agencies. In addition, government officials from agencies are important actors in actively supporting the development of new user profiles.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Among the results achieved, we highlight:
(1) A 220% increase in the gov.br portal's conversion rate, which is measured by total service requests divided by total page views. We went from 2.8% in May 2021 to 9% in October 2022;
(2) The services recommended using AI have been viewed more than 51 million times. Around 25% of service requests through the gov.br portal's homepage originate from a service recommendation.
(3) 7 profiles have been made available: Retired, Student, Entrepreneur, Driver, Worker, Farmer and Tourist. As of October 2022, services appearing in this section were viewed about 2.4 million times, of which 1.3 million were requested, with a conversion rate of 53%, which demonstrates its high utility.
Those metrics are measured using gov.br navigation data and the project's monitoring dashboards. In the future, we expect greater effectiveness with the offer of new profiles, improvements in the AI engine and a more proactive and multi-channel focus.
Challenges and Failures
One of the challenges encountered was to offer truly personalized services to each citizen. As we currently use browsing history to recommend services, we recognize that this recommendation still needs improvement. Currently, the recommendation is made for anonymous users and our roadmap includes integration with the citizen's login to offer it on all accessed devices and even in the portal's logged in area. Another challenge concerns the scope of user profiles. They may seem too broad in some cases, and we intend to create more sub-profiles to better guide the experience.
Finally, the profiles are created by the actors involved using extensive data analysis, but without the use of Artificial Intelligence. We tackled this challenge by involving more people and agencies, in addition to establishing a more refined curation process. In the future, we intend to use AI also for the creation of new profiles.
Conditions for Success
The support of the main decision makers was paramount. Without their involvement and engagement, it would be much more difficult to move forward with a project like this. In addition, support from other government agencies has also proved valuable, especially for the development of the User Profiles. Qualified human resources are another important condition for success. This is a challenging and innovative work in the context of government; therefore, having creative, motivated and questioning people is key. Constant iteration and monitoring is another success factor; without that, it's hard to make small mistakes, learn fast and improve along the way. Finally, a robust infrastructure was important for us to carry out a project of this magnitude without major technological difficulties.
To our knowledge, the innovation has not yet been replicated, at least not in Brazil's other government instances. We have little doubt that both project initiatives can be used by other government entities to offer public services to citizens in a more effective and personalized way. The gov.br portal is mainly focused on services at the federal level; we believe that similar benefits can be achieved by states and municipalities in offering their services.
The first lesson is perhaps the most important: having a citizen-first mindset helps direct all the effort and acts as a good thermometer regarding the adequacy and relevance of the project's actions. In our case, the use of AI was also important and is, in our view, irreversible. Increasingly, it will be used to support governments in delivering services to citizens. It is also important to celebrate small successes. This keeps everyone involved motivated and engaged, even when we encounter obstacles along the way.
We did A/B testing to evaluate the best ways to positively impact the use of the solutions and we understand that we could have tested even more. Finally, the entire project implementation was designed with mobile-first thinking. This transition to mobile devices has been fast and inevitable, so it is important that our citizen-focused approach also considers the device that is with them at all times.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
27 November 2023