In Smarter Information, Smarter Consumers, www.hbr.org, Richard H. Thaler and Will Tucker claim that the availability of information is changing consumer attitudes, and that government can learn a lesson from this.
Some companies have traditionally competed “through obfuscation.” Cell phone and credit card companies are infamous examples of this — who knows what the competing rates are? However, any advantage of keeping the consumer ignorant is disappearing quickly, as consumer information becomes more prevalent and user-friendly. Leading companies give their customers all the information they need to find purchase and store information, get a good deal, get LinkedIn, and Tweet about happy purchases. The clearer your sale process, the happier your customer, is the logic.
Thaler and Tucker talk, too, about citizens and government, noting that the U.K. and U.S.A. both have open, online initiatives (Smart Disclosure and midata). The public sector has no need to hide, and clarity wins trust and appeal. As citizens become more informed, government must respond in kind.
However, information is a difficult commodity. For a consumer or a citizen, getting all the relevant information would be overwhelming. Companies know this and capitalize by aiming for clarity; can government do the same? What would a user-friendly front for government really mean?
Here is the challenge for government: to offer simplified information without oversimplifying, while avoiding dense, unreadable facts. In the new world of informed citizens supported by data, Thaler and Tucker suggest that government can learn a lesson from the private sector and strike a balance between more information and clearer information by putting the needs of its audience first.