Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Doing the "Big Think"

From the beginning, the internet has challenged the creativity of government web managers who struggle to improve the reach of citizen services, amidst the constraints of government. The list of strategic issues has not dwindled over time. In fact, it has lengthened.

Last week, I taught a leadership course for web managers, part of Web Manager University’s spring curriculum; and we spent a good part of the afternoon talking about some of the broad strategic issues that web leaders face, including:

What should/can government websites be? Massive libraries? Most requested/used tasks? Can we manage the growing volume of information? What does the public really want? What does the public really use? How do we keep information accessible without overwhelming the public with its mass?

Managing more with less…how much are we really spending on web operations? Do we know? When someone asks (and they will), can we justify it? Can we find ways to share web management resources across government? Can we add new technologies and uses of technologies (wikis, blogs, interactive media, etc.) while maintaining the quality of current content?

Consolidating content operations within agencies…can we consolidate content operations (web, publications, call centers) so we create content once and deliver it in many ways? How do we make sure the public is getting the same answers, no matter how they receive the information? Do we have staff that are skilled in writing and editing content, based on a sound understanding of citizens as the primary audience? Should each agency have an “Office of Citizen Services?”

Consolidating content across government horizontally…the public thinks we are one government, yet we promote agency (organization) websites. Should we rethink how content is organized across government? Could it be organized by topic, instead of organization? Could we serve content through one (or a few) sites, instead of 24,000? Can we consolidate “top tasks” across agencies?

Consolidating content across government vertically…citizens don’t know which level of government provides what services How can we integrate content among levels of government?

Common “look and feel,” taxonomy across government… More than 24,000 federal public websites, each with its own design and taxonomy…can we bring some commonality across government to improve our service to citizens? Is it the right thing to do?

The students in this class came from all parts of government web organizations: field offices, tech operations, small sub-agencies, and agency web teams. They weren’t the top agency web managers, but – at least by the end of the day – they realized they are web leaders. They discussed these big issues, and more, enthusiastically. They engaged. They enjoyed it. And they did a great job delving into strategic challenges we all face. They did the “big think.”

It’s a mistake to assume that, if you aren’t on the agency-level web team, you don’t need to spend time analyzing broad strategic challenges. You do. The government needs web leaders at all levels – especially those out in the field and down in the branches of headquarters operations – to be part of problem-solving. You can’t just sit in your corner of the world and assume/hope that someone else is doing the thinking. You have to stick your head up and look around, see what’s coming down the pike, and talk about it. You have to help your agency web manager and web managers across government lead change, no matter where you are in the organization.

And agency web managers: you need to create opportunities for emerging web leaders to do the Big Think. You need their insights and help to meet these challenges. You need to stimulate discussion and encourage these leaders to spread their wings. We need web leaders at all levels to create the critical mass that enables change and progress.

Strategic thinking isn’t just the responsibility of the top web managers in the organization – it’s the duty of every single person in the content management community. So look around you. Start a conversation with other web leaders. Do the big think!