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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  • Clean up irrelevant and outdated content so people can find what they need online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.

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