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Posts Tagged ‘web management’

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.

Coordinated

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.

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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.

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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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