Throughout history, governments have tried to reach out better to the very people they govern. The process of engaging with citizens and collecting feedback on a large scale and making sense of it has, however, always proven daunting. The sheer numbers involved alone complicate things.
The internet has changed that by making the logistics of engagement a whole lot simpler. Instead of the paper forms and oral accounts of the olden days, engagement can be built with platforms made accessible by the internet. A website or an app set up for the explicit purpose of engaging with citizens by providing services, collecting feedback, and enabling access to data does the trick rather nicely.
The Government of India has committed itself to building a Digital India for its citizens, with e-governance and digital government services playing a major role in this vision. For Digital India to truly reach each and every Indian and be accessible, this vision has to be built in languages the average citizen speaks. Since English is only spoken by 10% of India, limiting these engagement platforms to English is to fundamentally limit their reach. Indian languages on the hand, truly democratize any service that incorporates them.
As government agencies seek to build and establish their reach online by providing citizens with easy-to-use, reliable digital services, they need to design their sites keeping these issues in mind.
BHIM, for example, with its mission of bringing digital payments to India’s masses, was localised in 12 Indian languages, something that boosted its reach and indeed brought digital payments to a much wider audience than an English only platform would have.
Here are some points government bodies should keep in mind while building solutions in Indian languages.
Don’t Forget To Localise Interactivity Too
Building platforms for citizen engagement goes beyond translating the front-end of a website or an app, however. It should cover all aspects of an interface with no gaps in language – both the front-end which a user sees and interacts with, and the back-end, which sends and receives data to and from the server.
A local ration store site for example, shouldn’t provide a Kannada language user with results in English. That defeats the whole purpose of having an interface in Kannada.
Think of all the possible actions a user could take to interact with a page. You have pop-ups, text that shows when you hover over elements, drop down menus, text boxes, reports, data, response forms, and even real-time updates.
All of these need to be included in the user’s Indian language experience.
Look Out For Breaks In Language Experience
A citizen can visit a website or open an app, enter their details, select options from lists and menus, fill in text forms, select options and checkboxes, and submit these details to the server.
Ideally, this process should involve both parties, on both ends of the equation – the platform’s front-end that the citizen interacts with and selects options from, and the platform’s back-end that processes these requests and provides the user with the expected output.
When a user uses a platform in a certain language, it’s expected that all points of interaction will be in the user’s chosen language.
In practice however, the implementation of localisation, when done, is more often than not very patchy. A poor user experience resulting from improper localisation can cut off citizens from accessing the very services the website or app is meant to provide to them, undermining the purpose of localisation.
After all, greater trust and the ability to understand and confidently use a platform are prime reasons for localisation, especially in the context of government services, where these factors are more critical.
Fix Content & Display Issues
Sometimes, text is incompletely localised. Several terms are left in English, or merely transliterated into the language’s script. Consistency and accuracy in localised content is something that needs to be checked and examined for quality.
Display in different languages is often inconsistent. This is often the fault of inferior fonts, which in turn create a subpar rendering experience. When text is messy and illegible, it makes the platform’s accessibility poor as well, severely limiting the degree of interactivity a citizen can have with the platform.
Extending language support is not enough. A completely localised language user experience is needed to accommodate a citizen accessing a government platform in an Indian language. The easiest way to ensure that there are no breaks in this user experience is by building with languages in mind right from the very beginning.
As state and central government bodies ramp up efforts to reach out and bring digital services to the average citizen, extending the ambit of e governance, localisation should continue to remain be a key focus.