I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill thinking about what I’d suggest if I were advising the Obama team on government websites. So many exciting ideas floating around - great ways to improve public service via the web - and they all require resources. So I think I’d suggest that the Obama team start by getting a handle on what they’ve got to work with. Then they can make good strategic decisions about how and where they can re-direct resources to these new initiatives. Here are three ideas:
- Do an inventory of all government websites. Yes, count them. Find out what purpose each plays, who the audience is, how much traffic they’re getting, and what they cost. What do they contribute in terms of mission achievement and/or service to the public? I’m guessing you could make some decisions right off the bat about eliminating redundancy, closing obsolete sites, and targeting consolidation. See where you can free up resources to do other things better, faster, smarter.
- Do an inventory of “top tasks.” Find out what the public really requests/uses/needs most often, across government. Agency web managers should be able to list their top 3-5 tasks by looking at their data and email, over time. Pick ten or so of those top tasks; and use the Web Managers Council to convene cross-agency working groups of web managers, content experts, usa.gov staff, and maybe even citizens, for each of those ten. Have each working group look at the content currently available across government (usa.gov’s topical links directories should help). Figure out how to eliminate duplication, consolidate where possible, and – this is something we just haven’t done well across government – put the content in some logical order (maybe it’s steps…”start here;” maybe it’s decision trees…if this, then that; maybe it’s categories) so the public can use it more easily. Target these top tasks for web 2.0 applications - maybe how-to videos; maybe outreach through social media. Get a plain language expert to work on the project. Then put all this on usa.gov. If this works, do more.
- Start a governmentwide web content certification process. Some agencies do this already. Bring discipline to content management by putting the onus for quality on the right players – the organization managers who create and own it. Require managers all the way up the chain to certify to the agency head – on some regular basis – that the content their organizations have posted on their websites is current and accurate. Hold them accountable. There’s nothing like telling managers that their performance ratings will be affected if their web content is wrong or outdated, to put focus on the importance of quality. Chances are this also will help keep web content to a manageable mass.
A good baseline is a good place to start. It should help identify the resources needed to turn some of those wonderful possibilities into reality.