The Internet of we: harnessing citizen sentiment

Government is only beginning to glimpse the value of the data they collect. One thing is clear – data holds the key to better service design and provision. For improving services, government agencies must capture data from all sources – both internal and external, structured and unstructured – to identify the sentiments of their citizens.  Let’s look at how we can harness Big Data analytics to discover how citizens actually feel about what we do and how we do it.

As agencies embrace Digital Transformation, the effective analysis of data provides the bridge to insight and informed decisions. Much of the focus of Big Data initiatives so far is on the exploitation of internal data to improve service provision and encourage citizen engagement. Less emphasis has been given to analyzing the content citizens create that can provide real insight into their perceptions and attitudes toward government agency performance.

The internet of we

Social media is ubiquitous. Government agencies are beginning to harness social media channels to engage with citizens and provide more immediate, more personalized services. However, monitoring and analysing social media is not widely adopted throughout the public sector worldwide.  A lot of potential insight is being missed. The statistics for Facebook alone provide an indication. There are 1.94 billion active Facebook users – of which 1.28 billion log in every day. Over 1.1 billion people access Facebook from their mobile device daily. Incredibly, virtually 100% of users aged 18 to 34 spend over 1,000 minutes a month on Facebook.

Think about the volume of content being created. Everyone uses social media: we share, discuss, criticise and commend. Our language is full of social media-created phrases that speak to its power as a collaborative tool – flash crowds, flash parties, crowd funding. In a very real way, I think that social media can be called ‘the Internet of we’.  While on social media, we are open, honest and often far more unguarded than perhaps we should be.

The sentiment factory

Government mining of social media creates a vast repository of citizen sentiment. The ability to analyze the conversations and content can help agencies uncover many vital pieces of insight such as:

  • How well services are being delivered and received
  • Where services are performing and where they are not
  • Where your staff are performing and where they are not
  • Where there may problems that need to be addressed quickly
  • Where there is the potential for unrest that must be addressed effectively

Applying predictive analytics to this well of citizen sentiment, along with geo-location data, allows for better understanding of what citizens want at a local and national level,  in order to develop and prioritize services based on actual needs. In terms of crisis or emergency, this type of analysis can provide an early warning to prepare the emergency services as well as providing the ability to better formulate outgoing messages, target messages to particular audiences and give an agile response to meet citizen concerns.

One source, not the source

We are all aware that not everything on the Internet is true! While social media provide a powerful and valuable source for defining citizen sentiment, it cannot be used in isolation.

The data gathered from social channels has to be brought together with other structured and unstructured data sources. Your internal operational systems, ERP systems, call centre systems, voice recognition, emails and correspondence all add to the data available to deliver a more complete and rounded picture.

As with all Big Data initiatives, the goal must be to centralize and normalize the data so that a ‘single version of the truth’ emerges. This gives government the ability to access the sentiment of key citizen groups – by a range of demographic categories such as service usage or location – while drilling down to uncover the insight that allows for the effective targeting and personalization of services to the level of the individual.

Analytics capabilities may sound like rocket science but it is not

It is true that Big Data analytics relies on sophisticated algorithms, especially in the realms of predictive and cognitive analytics.  The underlying technology is complex but there is an understanding within analytics solution providers that, for analytics to be valuable, it must be usable by subject matter experts.  Big Data is no longer the preserve of the Data Scientists.  Tools exist which allow us to use big data without earning advanced degrees.

Analytics systems are becoming more and more effective at visually displaying very complex data analysis in a way that is easy to digest and understand. Visual dashboards – combining real time information with simple reports and graphics – deliver the insight on which better, faster decisions can be reached. In addition, advanced analytics tools such as OpenText™ Information Hub (iHub) allow business users to quickly and easily create their own reports and dashboards to rapidly gain access to the information they need.

Big Data will continue to be increasingly important within the public sector. I think that the accurate measurement and monitoring of citizen sentiment will become an essential element of the Big Data strategies for most government agencies. Social media provides a great way to find out how you are actually performing. Combining social media data with other data sources provides the insight to drive more effective, more cost-efficient service provision.


OpenText is the leader in Enterprise Information Management (EIM). Our EIM products enable businesses to grow faster, lower operational costs, and reduce information governance and security risks by improving business insight, impact and process speed.

Related Articles