Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Practice What You Know

Most of us know by now that citizens don’t know – and don’t care to know – how government is organized. They don’t want to have to figure out which part of your organization provides the information they want – they just want the information organized in ways that make sense to them. So most agency websites are organized by topic or audience – not by organizational structure. In fact, that was one of the recommendations made to OMB from the Web Content Management Working Group, in 2004. Makes sense, right?

Why, then, do we revert back to organizing our online information across government, by the government’s structure? Yes – we have FirstGov (thank God!), which indexes our content by topic and audience. But executives still advertise individual government (organization) websites; awards still promote competition for the best agency (organization) website; and web managers continue to reinvent the wheel every time they “redesign” or “refresh” their (organization) websites, giving little thought to the advantages of commonality across government.

I’ve been there – I know how tempting it is to remain an isolationist. The web has offered a unique opportunity for government employees at the staff level to control something – to make a difference. That’s a powerful motivator. But let’s face it – it’s just not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to practice what we preach inside our organizations, across government. The right thing to do is to work across government toward a common look and feel, common terms, common organization of content, and merging/consolidating like content in ways that make sense to the audience. It shouldn’t fall to the FirstGov staff to make sense of information and services across government. You should work with your colleagues to make that happen.

I know this is hard. Giving up autonomy is painful. But you can’t have it both ways. If it’s not right to structure your agency website around your agency’s organization, then why is it OK to organize government information by the organization of government? Think about it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Web Manager Certification

Web Manager University has come a long way since we dreamed it up, more than a year ago. As I skimmed the course list for the fall semester, it occurred to me that there are consistent themes – courses that come up nearly every semester: “Writing for the Web,” something on usability, something on metrics, something on governance or training, and something about current or coming web technologies. So I wonder…could we come up with a list of courses that all government web managers should take? Is it time to come up with a web manager certification program? Is it time to institutionalize this job – governmentwide – and develop standards that define what this job is?

Think about it. Certification could do a number of very good things. Probably the most obvious advantage is that it would enhance your credibility, both within your own agency and within the web manager community. It says “this person has taken a core set of courses that give him/her a well-rounded grasp of government web management.” It says, “this person cared enough about the work to take this series of courses.” It says, “this person is ready to move on to greater responsibility.” Bosses love to say, “my employee is certified.” Even if the courses don’t increase your knowledge or skills (and it’s hard to imagine that you won’t walk away with something you can use), the certification will bolster your bosses’ perceptions of you.

But there are other good reasons that a web manager certification program could be beneficial.

1. In designing a basic curriculum, the web manager community will have to come to agreement on a set of KSAs (knowledges, skills and abilities) that all web managers should have. Those KSAs could be used if and when OPM ever classifies a web manager series. It could give web managers some input into their destiny.
2. Everyone can learn something by taking courses. It’s good for all of us to get out of the office now and then and to sit down with a group of our peers to listen and learn. Even experienced web managers who may be fairly expert in a subject area undoubtedly will get tips and tricks from their colleagues that they can use. I was a web manager for 10 years, but I learned something new from my peers every time I sat down with a group of them.
3. It will create a cadre of government employees that agencies can tap into, when vacancies occur. Wouldn’t you feel more confident hiring someone who has completed a basic web management curriculum? I know I would.
4. It will strengthen the web manager community. Web managers will get to know other web managers; and when you know someone, you are more likely to exchange ideas and successes and lessons learned with him/her. The more we share across agencies, the better we all become.
5. It will raise awareness of the fact that being a web manager is not the same as being a public affairs specialist or computer technology specialist or writer/editor. It is a complex job unlike any other, and it is not a job that just anyone can do. There IS a specific body of knowledge that you must have to be successful. Those of you who struggle to get your bosses to understand what you do might find that a certification program could be an eye-opener.

So I wonder…is this an idea whose time has come? You have the vehicle – Web Manager University. The question is: are you ready for the challenge?

Related links

Why Don't Web Managers Have Their Own Job Series?

Contracting Out Web Manager Duties