Monday, January 02, 2006

Working Best When Working Together

(Excerpt from my message to Karen Evans, head of E-Government at OMB, on 9/16/05)

When Katrina struck, many of our individual agencies went into panic mode - what can we put on the web? Let's throw up everything we can think of to support this relief effort. Never mind that it doesn't make any sense for 6 agencies to post information about mold, when people are still trying to find their loved ones.

But then, an amazing thing happened - something that couldn't have happened 2 years ago. The web managers from Homeland Security and EPA and Firstgov and CDC and HHS and FEMA and HUD and several other agencies got on the phone and said "let's stop this madness and get organized. Let's consolidate all our info, put it into categories ("lanes") that make sense to citizens, and all agree to use the same terms and do it the same way on all our websites." Everyone checked their egos at the door and proceeded to make this as unified and simple for citizens as possible.

Why could this happen now and not before? Because of the Web Managers Advisory Council (formerly the ICGI Web Content Management Working Group) and the Web Content Managers Forum. Now, we have an infrastructure - specific web content contact points at each agency who know each other and a listserv that connects us across agencies, across levels of government (yes - we have state and local governments involved, too), and across the country. It has been an amazing success story.

In the past year and a half, the government web content managers community has banded together and is growing. We have embraced the fact that we all serve best if we serve together. Who are these people? We are the folks who put the words on the page and organize the content and do the marketing and work on portals and stir the pot in our agencies to get managers to use the web to serve citizens. Most of us are under the Public Affairs umbrella. Some of us are in policy shops or - as in HUD's case - in the departmental management office. We work hand in hand with the CIOs, but we are the "other side" of website management.

This group is doing exactly what was envisioned in OMB A-130 - crossing boundaries, sharing information, trying to reduce or mitigate duplication. We are trying to find better ways to combine information across agencies, to make it easier for citizens to get what they need. We worry about these facts: FirstGov spiders more than 24,000 federal public websites and Google says they spider more than 180 million government web pages, including federal, state, and local. How can citizens find what they want and need in that jungle? It's like dumping them off at a shopping mall with 24,000+ stores and saying "good luck!" when what they need is a Costco - maybe not every brand imaginable, but at least a couple of the best options for each kind of product, all in one place.

We have made amazing progress in a very short time. The impetus was the ICGI effort. But from there, the Advisory Council (40 members strong, from every Cabinet level agency plus independents, from HQ and Field) and the Web Content Managers Forum (a 5-year old 1,000 member listserv group that meets monthly - via conference calls - around web content issues) have soared.

So why am I telling you this? Because I think we need to be connected. The CIOs have a Council that connects them to you. Our connection is much more loose. We have gravitated toward making FirstGov our center, partly because Bev Godwin has been an advocate, a sponsor, and a leader and partly because - as the front door to the Federal government, it is the right thing to do to make FirstGov the center. But it would be great if we had a stronger link to you. We are all trying to achieve the same goal: to serve citizens online.

It would be great if we could have some sort of ongoing relationship with you so we can tell you what we see and know and so you can tell us how we can help you. There are a couple of ways we could do that. You could "appear" on our Forum calls - we normally have 100+ web managers across the country on these monthly calls - a couple of times a year to let us know what's going on with you. Or we could do a briefing for you every quarter or so, either in person or via email. And of course, you always can keep up with what we're doing on our website:

Whatever you decide, I wanted you to know that this group is moving on, doing our best to do right things for the American people through our community and our websites. We share your goals, and we'd love to find other ways to work with you toward our mutual aims.

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