Monday, March 05, 2007

What If Our Bosses Don’t Want to Be Educated?

For years, government web managers have bemoaned the fact that we can't make the progress we hope to make because our “bosses” don’t listen to us. They don't give us credit for knowing what we’re talking about (because anyone who uses the internet thinks he/she is an expert in web design), don’t understand that you can’t give front page links out like chits, and don’t get it that citizens don’t want to see photos of political officials on the front pages of government websites. Sound familiar? I’ll bet. So, for years, we have talked about how we need to “educate our bosses,” so they’ll understand and support us (and let us do our jobs).

Now, as I reflect – and as I continue to hear my former colleagues talk about the need to “educate their bosses” – it occurs to me that maybe we’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Maybe it's time to realize that strategy isn't working. Maybe our bosses don't want to be educated. Maybe they have too much else on their minds. Maybe we should use what has worked for us before: the power of our grassroots community...the power of critical mass.

Look at the change we caused just two years ago, with the recommendations to OMB we made through the Web Content Management Working Group. We didn’t suggest that everyone start doing a bunch of new things. No – we went out and found those “best practices” that already were being used in many or most agencies, and we asked OMB to incorporate them into policy. The result was that agencies that hadn’t implemented the practices (in many cases, because they couldn’t get their bosses’ support) now had a mandate. Further, now that the practices have been sanctioned, they will be less susceptible to changing bosses and changing administrations.

If one web manager wants everyone in the agency to start using standard metadata so that search engines can help citizens find what they want more easily, he or she may not get very far. But if several web managers in several agencies get together and decide to use the same metadata and if the staff jump onboard and agree to start harvesting certain content by using that metadata, you can cause change. You can control your own destiny.

So, yes – do keep briefing your bosses and telling them ways they could help you improve your websites. Do share your knowledge of your audiences – especially citizens. Do seize opportunities to use management support to make your websites and content practices better. But be realistic. Your bosses have a lot of other things to worry about. So instead of getting frustrated and feeling powerless when your bosses don’t give you a blank check, apply your energy and leadership to something that works. Build critical mass. You can cause right things to happen. You just have to work together to do it.

"Change from the top down happens at the will and whim of those below.” --Peter Block

No comments: