Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can YOU Find What Citizens Want on Government Websites?

We want citizens to think of government websites first, when they have an everyday problem to solve - don’t we? We want them to use our websites (collectively) to do all sorts of common tasks – find a home, get answers about household poisons, prepare their kids for school, get the best medical information. And citizens WILL come to our websites repeatedly – if they continue to have good experiences…if they consistently can complete the tasks they want to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

Like it or not, citizens think of “the government” as a single entity. And – like it or not - citizens make judgments about all government websites, based on their experiences with any government website. So it’s in the best interest of each of us to know how all of us are doing. How do you do that? It’s simple. See if YOU can find what citizens want on government websites.

Here’s a little test. Take a half hour, and see how many of these questions you can answer. Here is the only rule: you only can use government websites to do your research. You may use USA.gov or Google’s U.S. Government search
to help you. But that’s it. These are common scenarios that any citizen might encounter. Ready? Go.

1. Housing: Your younger brother is a school teacher, making $35,000 a year. He’s single. He wants to buy a home. He lives in Iowa. He’s only got $5,000 saved for a down payment and closing costs, so he hopes there might be some government programs that could help him. He has no idea how to buy a home, and he doesn’t know where to begin in the process. You’ve volunteered to help him figure out what steps he needs to take.

2. Health: Your 75-year-old mother-in-law has just been diagnosed with gall bladder disease. She has to see her doctor tomorrow to discuss options for treatment. She has no idea what the gall bladder does, much less what this disease means. She only has Medicare, so she’s concerned that the best treatment won’t be covered. She’s called you asking that you help her figure out what’s going on, what to expect, and what questions to ask.

3. Food: Your office has decided to “adopt” a low-income family for Christmas. One of the things this family desperately needs is help buying healthy foods, on a very tight budget. They probably qualify for some government programs, but they don’t know what. As important, they really need some tips on how to buy healthy foods, on a low-income budget. At least 2 of the children are suffering health problems as a result of obesity. You’ve been given the task of coming up with some advice for them.

4. Education: Your neighbor’s daughter is a good student – not top of the class, but in the top quarter. Her parents had some hard times, and they just don’t have the money to send her to college. You’re thinking that there must be some government programs that could help this promising young woman go to college, without creating a debt so heavy that she’ll never be able to dig out.

OK – so how did you do? Could you complete your tasks quickly? Could you find what you need easily? Was everything written so you could understand it? Were the searches helpful, or did they overwhelm you? Did the most useful information turn up high on the list? Did you believe that you got comprehensive information?

If you had a great experience, then woo hoo! That’s victory for all of us. But if you didn’t have such a great experience – if you found it easier or harder in some cases than in others – then let’s talk about it. Let’s use the Web Content Managers Forum and the Web Managers Advisory Council to raise concerns and think about better options. If we want citizens to come to government websites, then we have to work together to make sure all of our sites deliver efficient and effective service. We do serve best when we serve together.

1 comment:

Holbrook Prieto said...

I manage a website in Ireland for a govt. agency (www.pensionsboard.ie) and am also studying eBusiness. I just want to say that it is good to read about similar experiences in the U.S. great blogging, thanks,
CiarĂ¡n.