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.

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