Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Couple of Thoughts about Governance – Thought One...At the Agency Level

CIO or Public Affairs? Public Affairs or CIO? The debate of the past 12 years lingers. No doubt it will become an issue – again – as the administration changes in 2009. I’m not sure why these are the only two choices (more on that in a minute), but if they are – why hasn’t this been settled long ago?

The logic seems clear. Websites – at least internet websites – are about interacting with the public. CIOs aren’t about the public – they’re internal service providers. They exist to serve internal clients – the program managers. They don’t interact with the public, nor should they. They don’t have staff who are knowledgeable about the public, nor should they. They don't have writers and editors on staff, nor should they. Public Affairs, on the other hand, is all about the public and writing and editing. The fact that most Public Affairs operations focus entirely – or almost entirely – on the press aside, if the only two choices for the web content management function are the CIO and Public Affairs, then the answer to this long-standing debate seems clear. It’s Public Affairs.

But wait – how about another option? Actually, two.

One of the really great guesses that the executives at HUD made way back in 1995 – and subsequent executives have retained – is that the web management function belongs with the chief management officer in the agency - in HUD’s case, the Deputy Secretary. Why does that make great sense? Two reasons. First, agency websites should be about mission and program delivery. The chief management officer is the top official in charge of day-to-day achievement of mission and program delivery. So it’s a perfect match. Second reason…the Deputy Secretary is organization-neutral. The CIO and the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs are peers on the organizational chart, along with all the other chief program officers. If there is a disagreement with a web policy, can the CIO or Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs really tell a peer “no?” Of course not. Either they’ll acquiesce (which is deadly for the website) or the issue will get elevated to the Deputy Secretary anyway. So why not just put the function with the executive who really has the final say?

But here’s an even better option: create a new organizational unit with a single mission: serving the public. Staff it with people who are experts in audience analysis and communications. Set it apart from other organizational components – so it remains neutral – and give it the authority to act as editor-in-chief for all program content served by any means to the public. I won’t go on more here – I’ve already written about this in prior entries (linked below). But I do think agencies have to get a grip on the fact that there is a huge "public" out there that is neither business partner nor press, and their web governance structures need to reflect that fact.

Related links:

Serving the Public – What Lies Ahead?
Somebody Needs to Say “No”

1 comment:

Steve said...

Candi, your "better option" is right on target and in the private sector it's known as "Marketing." That seems to be a four-letter word in government, but it's really what we need. Public affairs is a very necessary function, but it's not marketing.