Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Three Wishes

OK, folks – the clock is ticking down to the next Presidential election. In a little more than one year, transition teams will be walking into your agency, nosing around, looking for opportunities to make changes that will improve operations (and, quite honestly, make them look good). So, if that transition team were to call you in and tell you that they are going to grant three – and only three – wishes, what would you tell them?

Remember, bosses – especially new bosses – want to do things that will promote their own objectives, make them the first to do something, improve efficiency and effectiveness, and – most of all - reflect well on them. If you can articulate your wishes in terms that will meet both your new bosses’ needs, as well as your own, it’s a win-win situation. You’ll have a much better shot at having those wishes granted.

I already have my three wishes (yes, I realize I probably won’t be asked…but who knows?):

1. Combine all content operations into one single office, in each agency. Create content once and serve it many ways. I’d combine web content, publications content, and call center content – at least that which is targeted to the general public in one “Office of Communications” or “Office of Citizen Services” in each agency. Improve consistency. Staff the office with people who know what the public wants and who can write content from the audience’s point of view.
What do the bosses get? Efficiency and improved service to the public.
What do we get? The same. In addition, this should stop the madness about where web content management should live in the organization (not IT, not Public Affairs – communications!).

2. Use one common web design for most of government. I know, I know – you guys don’t like this. It would limit your creativity and autonomy. I was there. I know how you feel. But if you step back and look at it from the public’s point of view, having one design would make it easy to recognize a website as an official government website. More important, it would make it easier to use all government websites if the public only has to learn one navigation system and taxonomy. It finally would make us look like one government (which is what the public thinks we are!). And – here’s a biggie - it would save a boatload of money that currently is being spent agency-by-agency for web design. We could hire the best usability and design specialists to put it together, and we’d still save money across government.
What do bosses get? Significant cost savings and very visible evidence that they’re making government more efficient and effective.
What do we get? We can use our funds to do other things: improve critical tasks, eliminate outdated content, and develop new functionality. Also, it may help stop the proliferation of government websites – at least if the motivation is only to look different.

3. Split out “top tasks” and “message” content and feature them on their own governmentwide websites. Use for critical tasks (the tasks that many citizens want to find and use). Create for information about the goals and accomplishments of the administration. Let Public Affairs offices manage that content, and get it off agency websites. Agency websites, then, could remain libraries for other public information and sources of information and services for business partners.
What do bosses get? Better management and visibility for “message” information and a legitimate claim that they improved service to citizens.
What do we get? Solutions to long-standing design conflicts. We’d eliminate those front-page press releases and pictures of political bosses that use valuable real estate, making it hard to spotlight other important information. And our critical citizen tasks would be featured on, making it easier for citizens to find them. It also might help us toward the longer range goal of consolidating content, by topic, across government.

So what would you wish for across government? Across your agency? If you don’t know, you’d better start thinking about it right now.

Transition offers a wonderful opportunity to reassess and to start in new directions. But the window of opportunity may be very short, and it may not open again for 8 years. So be ready. Know what you want. As important, know how to ask for it. Be ready to present your requests so that bosses see the value to them, as well as to you. If you do, you just might find that your wishes will come true!

PS: This same advice works at the state and local level, too!

Related links:
What Are We Going to Be?

Serving the Public – What Lies Ahead

Common Look and Feel – Maybe the Time Has Come