Improving the Taxpayer Experience with the Crowd

Published Jul-10-16

Breakthrough:
Crowdsourcing contest yields novel ways to improve the taxpayer experience of the future.

Company:
Internal Revenue Service (IRS), United States

The Story:

Improving the Taxpayer Experience with the Crowd In 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States, launched its first ever Tax Design Challenge. This was a crowdsourcing contest to encourage breakthrough ideas to improve the taxpayer experience of the future, principally the online experience.

The IRS was looking for ideas that would make it easier for people to manage their tax responsibilities and to use their personal tax information to make informed decisions about their finances.

"This was a first-time endeavor for the IRS and one that reflects our strong commitment to engaging the public in efforts to build for the future state of tax administration," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Crowdsourcing is a relatively new activity for the revenue service. Engagement with the crowd is recognition of its belief that working with citizens and the private sector can help support innovation in the nation's tax system.

Designing Novel Concepts

Participants had to factor into their ideas some or all of the more than 200 data fields that can comprise a person’s tax information. These included line-by-line tax return information for specific tax years, capital gains and self-employment tax deductions. They were also told to design an online experience that people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds with different needs could interface with easily.

To help them in their quest, participants could access mentors and experts from government and non-government organizations.

Creative Submissions

The three-week competition garnered 48 submissions in three categories - best financial capability, overall design and taxpayer usefulness. They were assessed by a panel of judges who made their decisions according to several criteria, including visual hierarchy, information density and accessibility.

There were two winners in each category and they shared a prize pot of $21,000. Their submissions included web-based and mobile platforms that improved the visual layout and style of the information for taxpayers as well as making it easier for them to manage their tax responsibilities.
Andrew Miller, a user-interface designer and front-end web developer from San Francisco picked up first prize in the overall design category ($10,000) and first prize in best taxpayer usefulness ($2,000) for his "IRS MyService".

"We saw a strong response from the participants, and the winning designs are creative displays of what a future online taxpayer account could look like," added Koskinen.

The Crowd as Innovation Partner

As with many crowdsourcing initiatives this IRS challenge was an effective way to get user feedback and improve the user experience at a relatively low cost.

Using the crowd as an innovation partner potentially increases the speed of innovation, reduces risk, increases the flow of quality ideas and speeds up the time to market with new ideas.

As leading business thinker Gary Hamel said in his book 'Leading the Revolution': "if you want to see the future coming, 90% of what you need to learn you’ll learn from outside your industry."

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