Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Ok so it’s time for another post in my ongoing series (see my last post) on our efforts to revamp the top level of our organization’s website. Today, I’m moving from theory into practice: here’s the steps we are following to wrangle our online tasks into topics. essentially this is how we are going to determine what our landing pages will be.

1. Task identification. We combed through our websites, our org’s service inventory and our Program Activity Architecture to identify tasks that could be accomplished online.

Through hours of slogging, we uncovered over 100 tasks, which we compiled in a big inventory spreadsheet.

This list is likely incomplete, but I’m hopeful that it covers enough breadth to be representative.

We did not prioritize tasks through this process — more on that will come later.

2. User-led categorization. Next, we fed the tasks spreadsheet to our consultants for conducting user research. They recruited and interviewed 13 users based on audience criteria that we already had in hand. In these interviews, our consultants asked participants how they’d group these tasks into categories, and what they’d call the groups they created — in other words, an open card sort.

3. Analysis of the research results. The consultants then analyzed the results of the card sorting interviews and came up with a preliminary list of 25 categories across our main user groups (this was somewhat expected, as we have a wide-ranging mandate). Important point here: since this was an open sort, the names in this list were derived from the words used as category labels from the research participants themselves. This means, they are a key indicator of our clients’ mental models and the language they use when encountering our content. Similar to what Gerry McGovern calls “customer carewords.”

4. Refinement. We felt that 25 different topics was a tad high (e.g. it would form an overly long list if used as a search facet), so we worked with the research data to further refine this list down to 12 categories. We are currently working with our internal stakeholders to validate our work.

5. Tagging. Through the evolution of our topics listing, we’ve been updating our tasks spreadsheet to ensure our topic labels are assigned properly to each task. Aka tagging. Some tasks fall under more than one topic, as they should. For this tagging exercise, we’ve drawn again on the data from the card sorting interviews, but internal stakeholder feedback and editorial judgement both play a role as well.

For now our tagging by topic still lives only on our big tasks spreadsheet, but once we implement in our CMS, we hope to be able to apply in a variety of ways — not only for our landing pages, but also for various forms of search and browse navigation.

But we’re not done yet.

Next steps:

1. Within these categories we need to prioritize the top tasks that will be surfaced on our top level landing pages. We’ll look at web traffic, client surveys, call centre data and internal stakeholder feedback to make that determination.

2. Further user testing is required. We need to plug these topics into the navigation prototypes that we are building and field test them (again with honest to goodness clients from outside the firewall) to see how they function in practice. We fully expect further tweaks.

It’s not a perfect process, but it looks like we’re on our way to a topic-based categorization for our org’s tasks that can be completed online.

We’re hopeful that this means when it comes to actually creating our landing pages, we will be able to present our key tasks in ways that make sense for our clients.

Read Full Post »


I have stopped reading regular “social media” experts. What I like about the social CRM crowd is they don’t talk about “how to set up your Facebook” page. Instead they are focused on tying social back to the organization.

via World’s Most Incomplete List of Social CRM Experts | The Funnelholic.


I have been definitely feeling post-social of late (I think it shows as I’m posting less and less about it). I think it might be because I’m reading the wrong stuff. Thinking that the “social CRM” avenue might be my escape hatch.

From a gov/communicator perspective I like the idea of directing social media effort in a customer service direction. Allows for official participation in social channels without all the baggage of dealing with “hot issues.” Better, it’s a way to provide concrete help to the people we serve. I think it has potential to provide a bigger bang for the buck than using social as a channel to do what we’ve always done (e.g. tweeting links to news releases).

I haven’t seen much evidence of the GoC using social media in this vein. Have you?

Read Full Post »

What’s my basis for content strategy? In other words, what’s the purpose of my web content?

I’m taking a service orientation.

Working in government, my starting point is that people using our web content are doing so because they have specific tasks to complete. They’re not coming to our websites for fun. They’re coming because they need to get something done. This isn’t just an assumption, we’ve seen it in all the research and data we’ve collected.

So I’m taking a page from Gerry McGovern’s work and using top task management as a basis for content strategy: the primary purpose of web content for my org is to assist people in completing the tasks that they come to us for online.

So, how can our content help people with their tasks? Three ways:

  • find the task (marketing or promotional content, landing pages and other forms of nav content)
  • understand the task (explanations, instructions, guides, help)
  • complete the task (forms, workflows, transactions, or contact info for handling the task offline)

Now, I’m part of the team responsible for the what we call the top level of our web content, i.e. the home page and key landing pages at the top of the sitemap. I don’t actually have any control over the places on our site where the tasks themselves are actually situated. Given that, I want our web content to act as a funnel that delivers people efficiently to the tasks they’re there to accomplish. This means that findability first and foremost is my focus.

By findability, I don’t mean SEO. (Well I do, sort of. But that’s fodder for a separate post.) And at this point, I’m not even talking about digital marketing that takes place offsite — in social media or through Adwords or what have you. (We’re just not there yet, we need to fix our core website first.) So I’m really talking about those landing pages I mentioned above. I don’t want them to be a reflection of our org chart or an A-Z list of our program and branch names — that’s too internally focused, unintelligible for our clients from outside the firewall. I want our key landing pages to make sense of the tasks that our clients can undertake on our site, especially the ones that they see as most important. I want these pages to approach our content from the client point of view.

That’s the basis of my content strategy. Pretty simple really.

In my next post, I’ll outline how we’re working to use landing pages to make our primary tasks findable by our clients.

Read Full Post »

If your government department or agency is anything like mine it’s a fairly decentralized place. Oh there’s an org chart that’s roughly pyramid shaped, giving the impression that there’s a neat and tidy hierarchy, but in reality, the various teams and units basically do their own thing. People are funny that way.

This makes the ideal of a centralized or stand-alone web unit something that’s really hard to achieve.

Enter the hub and spoke. Jeremiah Owyang writes persuasively of using hub and spoke models to establish organizational discipline for social media, but I would argue that this model can work for managing the traditional website too. All forms of digital in fact – whether mobile, web, data feeds, email, search, social… and whatever is coming down the pipe next.


So what is this hub and spoke? As I see it, the hub is where the digital effort is enabled, while the spokes are the business units that need to accomplish their objectives using digital media.

In the hub sits the underlying functions that allow for efficient and effective digital delivery — where I work this is where overall responsibility for IA/UX, strategy, editorial planning, publishing standards, content governance, measurement and evaluation would be housed, ready to be provided to various business units to draw on. But really, the mix will differ in different organizations.

In turn, the business units which comprise the spokes are the homes for in-depth subject matter expertise and direct responsibility for delivering specific services. Whether its a policy shop that wants to run a consultation, or a program area that’s launching a new round of funding, or any other of a multitude of situations, these teams draw on the hub’s resources to help them succeed online.

This model presupposes a strong hub that can actually bring resources to the table. And also an organizational willingness to act in a coordinated manner. From what I’ve seen this is rarer than you might imagine, often stemming from a lack of appreciation of the strategic value of digital. But hopefully the tide is turning.

Read Full Post »

ROT is in the air. Not because it’s late fall and everything is dying in the garden, no. I’m talking about web ROT – redundant, outdated and trivial content that clutters up big websites.

In the Government of Canada context, with CLF updates coming down the pipe, the opportunity to reduce the ROT [NB internal GCpedia link] is there. You’re gonna have to update your site anyhow, so why not kill off those old pages that have been online & unchanged since the 1990s?

It’s a noble quest, but I do wonder if it’s tilting at windmills.

The “reduce the ROT” idea is basically to prune back your content so that what’s left is the good stuff. The quality stuff that most of your users want, the long neck of your website. The top tasks.

Thing is, to remove the ROT, precious hours of your web team’s time will be spent identifying, unposting and archiving all that mess. If your site is big enough, it’s a question of many hours on that “mind-numbing” journey through the depths of your web content. & if responsibility for web is shared (as in decentralized situations that are still very common in government web management), you’re likely going to have to do battle with small-minded content owners who refuse to see the big picture.

Weeding out the ROT is actually an indirect way to fix your website. So instead, why not just cut to the chase and push the good stuff to the top of the pile? Rather than cutting away ROT, why not directly optimize your killer content?

Here’s some ideas on how that might happen:

  • tweak your on-site search to push the top content up the results
  • offsite, enhance the findability of your best content via SEO
  • provide dedicated landing pages for top tasks and content — and then make sure search results and site nav get you to these
  • tweak your nav to provide more direct paths to the good stuff
  • feature the good stuff prominently on your home page
  • and most of all, switch your focus from managing content to managing those key tasks.

… and there’s many more things that can be done. That’s just a quick off-the-top-of-my-head starter list. What are you doing to bring quality forward on your site?

(Of course, both reducing the ROT and optimizing the quality content would be the best possible approach, but since I live the reality of limited time and resources, I need to prioritize… and so these days, I’m putting my energy towards surfacing the good stuff first.)

Read Full Post »

What does this sound like?

Encourage public service managers and employees to communicate openly with the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives they are familiar with and for which they have responsibility. Openness in government promotes accessibility and accountability. It enables informed public participation in the formulation of policy, ensures fairness in decision making, and enables the public to assess performance. An open and democratic government implies that all employees have a role in communicating with the public while respecting the constitution and laws of Canada. Public service managers and employees must respect privacy rights, matters before the courts, national security, Cabinet confidences and ministerial responsibility. They serve the public interest best by communicating openly and responsively about policies, programs, services and initiatives they help to administer, while treating sensitive information with the discretion it requires.

A strong rationale for government bureaucrats to widely adopt social media communications, perhaps?  (Complete with caveats about doing so responsibly). Surprise — it comes from the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada.

Interesting: it looks like this has been part of the communications policy from at least 2002. Well before most of us had any idea about blogging, web 2.0 or social media. Go ahead, take a look at the text of the archived 2002 policy statement, it says the same thing.

(The GoC Communications Policy is a bit of a laundry list of requirements — 31 in total — for various aspects of communications: advertising, publishing, web, crisis communications, media relations, corporate identity, and so on. It’s easy to get lost in the details of each of these requirements and forget the overarching principles, laid out in the policy statement at the front end of the document. I’ve often skipped past this section — usually b/c I’m looking for some specific detail buried deeper in the document. But the other day I re-read the policy statement again for the first time in a long while, and that’s when this jumped out at me.)

Read Full Post »

The Government of Canada’s Common Look and Feel standards are the playbook for maintaining our websites. They were last updated in 2006, before the buzz on “social media,” before the explosion of the mobile web. (“Web 2.0” was a major trend at the time, one that these standards more or less avoided completely.)

Now, updates to CLF are in the works, but until they are released, we’re still playing by 2006 rules. & we all know that four years is an eternity online.

This nugget on mobile got me thinking:

The spread of mobile media devices, whether smartphones or iPads or Nooks, has led to tailored software applications that make reading text and watching video easier on screens smaller than those on personal computers. So people are not viewing this mobile media through a Web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox, a central point in the Wired “Web Is Dead” article. But the books, magazines and movies viewed on an iPad, for example, are downloaded over the Internet. Indeed, Wired added the headline declaration, “Long Live the Internet.” Similarly, the case for Facebook’s fall someday is that it is a cluttered Web creation when mobile devices demand sleek, simple designs. [via Now Playing – Night of the Living Tech – NYTimes.com]

The same can be said for GoC CLF-compliant websites — they are “cluttered web creations” that may happen to be viewable via mobile devices, but provide relatively poor user experience.

So for me, a mobile site or app is needed. A colleague remarked to me recently that he felt that given improvements in how the browsers work in smartphones, it would make more sense to focus efforts on dedicated mobile apps. I’m not so sure. I don’t have access to an iPhone, but I can tell you that the browser on the Blackberry is, to put it mildly, not so hot.

& there’s another reason why I think mobile sites have their place — in a lot of cases, I feel that users would have a low level of motivation to go through the effort of downloading and installing a dedicated app to interact with GoC content.

Anyhow, here’s a couple of screencaps from my Blackberry browser (version 4.7.1, so not the latest but fairly recent) that illustrate how CLF sites look when you first access them. If you are using a desktop display (such as what I’m using now), keep in mind that these look much smaller on a mobile device.

I find I always need to spend some time zooming and panning to get at readable content. And if I’m not familiar with the site in question, while I’m exploring, I’m also trying to envisage what it “ought” to look like if it were on a laptop- or desktop-sized screen. Even if you know the site well, it often takes several tries to make the page readable. I’m very familiar with the weather forecast for Ottawa example for instance (it’s the start page on my BBerry browser), and I’ve got the routine for it down pat: on load, click the magnifying glass, then scroll to the text forecast, then hit the menu button and select column view to render it in a way that I can read it without squinting.

I’m not sure I’d want to force my users to put up with this kind of experience. Patient and forgiving users (like me!) are few and far between. But even the impatient and unforgiving are starting to use the mobile web in a big way — so we should be adapting to this in a way that lets them get at our content with a minimum of hassle.

A proper mobile site, such as the ones for CIC or PHAC, would be optimized for the screen size on which you are working and would allow you to starting using it productively right away.

The approach that CIC and PHAC appear to have taken is to create a separate mobile site that focuses on top-task content drawn from the main site. Another route could be to implement mobile styles on the main site itself so that users can experience any page without all the zooming and panning. I can think of advantages and pitfalls to both — what’s your take?

Read Full Post »

Recent data from Twitter showing the plethora of devices and apps used to access the service

Twitter released data last week showing an explosion of mobile use of their service:

Total mobile users has jumped 62 percent since mid-April, and, remarkably, 16 percent of all new users to Twitter start on mobile now, as opposed to the five percent before we launched our first Twitter-branded mobile client. As we had hoped in April, these clients are bringing more people into Twitter, and, even better, they are attracting and retaining active users. Indeed, 46 percent of active users make mobile a regular part of their Twitter experience. [Official Twitter Blog: The Evolving Ecosystem]

That’s a lot of different numbers,  but basically it boils down to this: the Twitter experience is transforming into a mobile one.

How I tweet. Mobile clients highlighted.

This certainly rings true for me personally — For example, my TweetStats shows that since staring on Twitter, mobile has been a very common part of how I tweet — I’ve highlighted the mobile clients in the graph at right, which shows the breakdown in clients used for 4029 of my tweets since I started using Twitter. Combined, my mobile apps — UberTwitter, Dabr, the official Blackberry app and TwitterBerry — accounted for 1709 of my tweets. If I were able to look at amore recent slice of this data, I’m sure it would show that mobile clients account for the majority of my tweeting. (And that’s just my output, rather than looking at how I consume others’ tweets. I often start my day by grabbing my ‘Berry and checking my Twitter timeline and lists, so you get the idea how that goes.)

Importantly, I’m not just issuing and reading tweets via mobile. I’m following links. Lots of them. As we all know link sharing is one of the most common ways of using Twitter. And I can tell you that when I get to the other end of those links, I much prefer dealing with site that’s optimized for mobile than one that’s not. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What’s the takeaway for us GoC web communications types? If you are running a Twitter account that posts links to your website into the Twitterverse (and soon that’ll be all of us), it looks like its time to start thinking about taking your website mobile if you haven’t already.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

The speed with which the American federal government has been moving forward with its web agenda is nothing short of breath-taking. From open data to social media, mobile and beyond, the American government’s online presence has been transforming itself. So fast in fact that a whole industry has sprung up to watch and report on it (think NextGov, GovFresh, OhMyGov, etc.).

Many will think of the arrival of the Obama administration as the key driver of this energy. But the pieces were falling into place even before the US President’s open government directive in Jan 2009.

Back in 2008, the Federal Web Managers Council issued a challenge to the bureaucrats managing web in the US federal government — “Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government.” That whitepaper proposed six goals for the web function in the Government of the USA:

  • Establish web communications as a core government business function
  • Help the public complete top government tasks efficiently
  • Clean up irrelevant and outdated content so people can find what they need online
  • Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service
  • Deliver the same answer from every service channel (web, phone, email, print, in-person, etc.)
  • Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online.

Noble goals all. And ambitious too. Yet commonsense — and key to meeting the needs of an increasingly digital society.

The Federal Web Managers recently issued an update detailing their progress in achieving this vision.  Read about it in their 2010 Progress Report.

Here in Canada, the evolution of web management in the federal government has taken a different path: a focus on policy compliance. CLF 2.0 standards came into effect in 2006, and since then many departments and agencies have poured the main part of their energies (and budgets!) for web into compliance. Which is all well and good, but hardly an ambitious achievement.

Now TBS is leading a review of CLF standards with an eye to releasing updates starting later this year. Some of the good changes that I have seen from my position mostly on the sidelines:

  • a community minded, crowdsourcing approach where those involved in web across the GoC have been encouraged to participate
  • extensive use of GCpedia, the GoC-wide wiki environment, to facilitate collaboration and participation
  • the incorporation of usability (or user experience if you prefer) as a core aspect of CLF, closing up a major pre-existing gap in the standards

But none of this changes the fundamental disconnect around web that I see in the GoC: for citizens, the web is increasingly becoming central to their interaction with government, while within the bureaucracy, web is still by and large treated as a secondary concern. It is far from being “a core government business function.”

As @resultsjunkie tweeted earlier today, we need a GoC version of this vision of putting web at the centre of government.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »