Friday, August 15, 2008

USA.gov Shines the Light on a Big Problem - Redundancy

USA.gov is a terrific website. I love the design – simple, uncluttered, pretty easy to use. The USA.gov team has done a good job sorting through and categorizing thousands (and thousands and thousands and…) of links to government websites. And in doing that, they have exposed one of government’s biggest problems: redundancy. Duplication. Overlap. Waste.

Go to USA.gov and pick any topic…let’s say “Family, home, and community.” That’s a category that touches all of us. Drill down through “Homes and housing” to “Home buying and financing.” On that list, you find 12 links that mention “loan,” “mortgage,”
“finances,” “down payment,” or some derivative of these terms. These links lead to information at or from at least 6 different federal agencies (some are publications posted on the Pueblo, Colorado site). One of them takes you to another page of links on mortgages, from even more agencies. Two of the links on that page go to mortgage calculators (one from Ginnie Mae; one from the Federal Reserve).

OK – I’m a citizen looking to my government to give me some good, objective tips on getting a mortgage. And you expect me to plow through all this stuff, sort the wheat from the chaff, and figure out where to start? Come on, folks. Don’t you people talk to one another? Can’t you pull this together in one easy, step-by-step guide? Don’t we pay you to make our lives easier – not harder?

There’s nothing like seeing these long lists of links, topic-by-topic, to recognize inefficiency. I didn’t take time to read through all this info (few would), but I’d be willing to bet there’s at least some duplication (duh) and possibly even some conflicting advice. After all, when you let that many different players publish without coordination or editing, you’re bound to find some conflicting opinions.

We who work(ed) in the federal government know that duplication and lack of coordination across government is rampant. But the internet has really exposed this problem to the public.

So how do you solve it? Well, we’ve already got a model in many agencies: distributed authorship. You create one template with a good set of rules, put someone in charge of enforcing those rules, and let many authors contribute to a single website. You make sure that each topic has a good editor who sees to it that redundancy is eliminated and conflicts are resolved. You scrap all (or at least most) of those individual government websites and use those resources to create content for that single site…content that incorporates all the facts, tips, and services from all the relevant agencies, content that leads the reader through the steps.

USA.gov has sorted out the topics. We know which agencies need to work together, to pool knowledge and resources. The next step is to agree on the goal. That will take courage and humility (it’s hard to give up autonomy). Would it be easy? No. Is it the right thing to do? Yes.

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2 comments:

Jake said...

Hi Candi,

I'm Jake from GovGab and I do believe I've seen you speak at the Web Manager's conferences. Thanks for the compliments on USA.gov work. I just wanted to let you know that GovGab is celebrating it's first bday this week and each of us will be talking about what the U.S. was like when we turned 1. Please take a look if you get a chance.
http://blog.usa.gov

Britney said...

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Britney
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