The dominant way in which the Government of Canada manages its web presence is along organizational lines. Each dept or agency has its own website and manages its own content and services. But does this make sense? Should the overall federal government web presence use organizational boundaries as its main organizing principle?
I think maybe not. it is a truism in government communications that our citizens and stakeholders don’t understand or care how government is organized, or which dept or agency is talking to them. All they want is to receive the services that they are after. They tend to see the GoC as a monolithic, singular entity.
But when it comes to web I don’t think one monolithic uber-site is the answer. Online, segmentation is the order of the day — it is niche that plays well. Digital communities tend to coalesce around issues or topics rather than organizations. So targeted sites divvied up thematically — regardless of which orgs have a stake in the topic.
An example: Today, GoC consumer information and services are spread across a range of sites belonging to a number of different orgs — e.g. Industry Canada (in several spots), the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy, the Competition Bureau, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, Health Canada, NRCan, etc. Why not collect all that into a single consumers.gc.ca site. This would be a more truly citizen-centric approach to delivering web.
I’m fully aware that there are some examples of GoC web presences developed along these lines — for instance science.gc.ca, canadabusiness.gc.ca. And if memory serves, this was one of the principles driving the old Government Online (GOL) initiative. But the job was never really finished, and the topic sites that are active today coexist uneasily with organizational ones.
I also realize that what I’m suggesting would be a massive undertaking. Reorganizing the entire .gc.ca web from a collection of mostly org sites to a set of theme ones would take years of effort, not to mention impressively strong willed leadership. After all, trying to keep even a single agency site from its tendency to become organized by org chart is difficult.
Gerry McGovern says that the “essential challenge of the Web is to become customer-centric.” In government terms, our central web management challenge is to become citizen-centric. If we are going to rise to this challenge, if we truly want to become citizen-centric online, then dropping organizational sites in favour to subject sites is probably the way to go.