Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reward Collaboration

Back in the mid 90s, Government Executive Magazine did an annual “Best Feds on the Web” article. In those days, we who were honored used that external validation to build credibility and interest within our agencies. Our websites were just infants then; and they needed all kinds of support to grow. Then along came the E-gov awards, the Digital Government Awards, the Brown University ratings, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (which became a competition when they started publishing the results), and a myriad of other awards that recognized the accomplishments of single agencies. Our bosses loved it, and so did we. But now that government websites are full-grown, I wonder what purpose those awards serve? I wonder if it is really a good idea to pit one agency website against others?

Most citizens view “the government” as a single entity. They want good, simple, well-written web content that will help them get the services they pay for. They don’t care what agency it comes from. They don’t care that one website has been rated better than another. They expect every government website they visit to be “the best.” The Web Managers Advisory Council established the goal: to make US government websites the most citizen-focused and visitor-friendly in the world. To do that, we have to work together. We need to reward collaboration.

We used to do an annual “Web Day” at HUD. We started it to recognize the “volunteers” among the HUD staff who put in extra hours and energy to make our website better. We honored the best web managers and the best marketers and the best web pages in the field and in Headquarters. But eventually, we realized that these awards were reinforcing organizational divides. We were sending conflicting messages: on one hand, we were telling HUD staff to consolidate information and services across organizations and make HUD’s website reflect “one HUD.” On the other hand, we were rewarding web managers who were “better” than others and forcing competition. You can’t have it both ways – if you want people to work together, then you’ve got to reward collaboration.

Wouldn’t it be great to reward agencies who get together to consolidate information and reduce duplication? Wouldn’t it be great to recognize those web managers who reach out to other web managers to help them make their sites better? Wouldn’t it be terrific to honor agencies that share applications with other agencies, so we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel? If we want citizens to get the best of their government from every government website, then we need to downplay competition and reward collaboration

Related links:

Common Look and Feel - Maybe the Time Has Come
Working Best When Working Together

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