Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It's Time for Governance

I just returned from DC, where I taught another Web Manager University course. I always love teaching and seeing my former colleagues. But this trip was especially interesting because government web managers are truly excited about the connections they are making with the executive (read: political) level of government. And why is that so important? Because that strong connection has not existed in the past 14 years. Because that connection is absolutely essential if the issues that the Federal Web Managers Council spotlighted in their recent white papers are to be resolved. Because it’s time to create a true “governance” structure for government web management.

Lisa Welchman wrote a terrific blog post a couple of weeks ago about the progress our friends in the United Kingdom are making in consolidating and focusing their government websites, largely because they have strong web governance. She calls for similar top-level support and direction in the U.S. I couldn’t agree more that the top-level governance void needs to be filled. But – as always – how we do it is as important as what we do. It’s got to be the right players at each level, and there have to be the right, formal, connections between levels.

I think there are three key issues here.

1. First (and I do mean in this order), top government executives need to recognize and declare that government websites (at least those in the Executive branch) are major assets for mission achievement and public service – not just a jumble of massive bulletin boards for the plans and achievements of whatever administration is in power – and they must be managed that way.

Citizens are the primary audience for most government websites. Web managers know that. They also know that citizens come to government websites to get the information or services they want and need quickly and easily and get out. They don’t want to waste their time wading through photos of agency heads, press releases on agency actions, and way too many home page links to esoteric content, put there to appease the egos of agency managers who think what they do is so important that it warrants front-page feature.

The problem is that top political and career executives – at least in the past – either didn’t know or didn’t care that taxpayers see our websites as service centers that should be focused on their needs. So we need that top layer to get behind the notion that government websites are about serving citizens and that they must be run as the critical products that they are, with appropriate resources dedicated to their success.

2. Which brings me to issue two: government websites MUST be run by web managers who have appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). Fourteen years ago, when U.S. government websites were born, we didn’t have a cadre of employees with the KSAs to manage these assets. Now, we do.

Web managers must have 7 basic KSAs: leadership skills, communication skills (both writing and speaking), organizational skills, analytical skills, entrepreneurial skills, basic knowledge of the agency and its programs, and basic knowledge of web technology. Top agency web managers need experience in government web management, as well. Agencies need to hire web managers with these skills and train upcoming web managers to build these KSAs. They also need to be sure they have adequate numbers of skilled web managers to manage their websites.

3. Finally, issue three: we need a formal governance structure at the top that supports the wonderful and successful grassroots structure that already has emerged in the Web Managers Forum and the Federal Web Managers Council. That structure needs to address and coordinate policy-making and strategic planning for web content operations, across government.

So what do I propose? It’s pretty simple, really.

1. Create a governmentwide Web Policy Council, comprised (at least) of the Director of Communications at the White House (or his/her designees which could/should include the Director of New Media), the Director of E-Government and Information Technology at OMB, the Chief Performance Officer at OMB (and that might be someone who holds one of these other titles), the Director of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, and the Chief Technology Officer (again, those duties may be subsumed by one of these other officials).

The Director of the Office of Citizen Services at GSA (or his/her designee) and the Co-Chairs of the Federal Web Managers Council should be participants in all policy discussions, so they can bring practical issues to light and carry back the thinking of the Web Policy Council to the web manager community. If there were a Director of Communications Policy at OMB (I so wish and believe there should be), that officer also should sit on this Council.

Each of these policy managers has a strong stake in the efficiency and effectiveness of government websites. In addition, it will be important for each of these players to coordinate his/her requests of government web managers with the others. The Policy Council presents the opportunity to establish priorities.

2. Sanction the Federal Web Managers Council as the implementation coordinating body for web policies. They already are empowered to develop and distribute guidance and directions on implementing OMB policies and to identify and publicize best practices. They just need public (re)endorsement. Further, the Federal Web Managers Council can raise issues to the Policy Council that need higher level guidance and/or support or coordination.

3. Take care of outstanding business. The Web Policy Council should do 3 things, right off:

  • Prepare a memo from the Director of OMB to all Agency Heads, informing them that web management policy and strategy will now be directed by this Web Policy Council and will apply to all agencies; that agency websites are to be viewed and used as public service centers, focusing on using the best available technologies to deliver services – especially “top tasks” - as efficiently and effectively as possible; and that they are to review and assign appropriate resources – including web managers with appropriate KSAs – to managing government websites. This memo also should sanction the Federal Web Managers Council.
  • Act on the White Papers prepared by the Federal Web Managers Council.
  • Develop and publicize strategic goals for web management for the coming year(s) to guide the Federal Web Managers Council and government web managers in all agencies. Everyone – top to bottom – must have the same vision and path, to accomplish all that must be accomplished.

It’s time to fill this void. We need a strong governmentwide, top-to-bottom governance system for managing government websites as the critical citizen service products they are.

Related Posts:

We Need A Communications Czar!
As You Plan Ahead, Think What You Want to Leave Behind

7 comments:

Mary Maher said...

AMEN!

Joe Flood said...

Agreed, especially about the point about web managers needed for government web sites. I'm currently looking for a job as a government web manager (I've been a contractor for govt) and there are few such opportunities in USAJOBS. Responsibility for the web site sometimes falls to an IT Specialist or a Public Affairs Officer or someone more junior. In this day and age, we need dedicated web managers.

Jeffrey said...

As a friend of mine says, we're in violent agreement. :)

barryeverett said...

Wow! Candi, this post, from the Content Manager's perspective, is what I saw in my dream from a few nights ago. As an Infrastructure person, I concur completely with your thesis and totally endorse your proposal.

I have been struggling with the 'First-Best' step for the response to the January 21st Open Gov Directive, and in my sleepless spinning early on March 1st, I came up with something similar from the Infrastructure side of the Web Team.

I would add to your observations and directives, as follows:

Observations: Web Technologists (Infrastructure), while concerned with the nuts and bolts of the New Media (Web 2.0), and to some extent are not involved in the day to day development and management of the venue, are critical partners to Content Managers. The technology and nuances of the tools available are constantly changing, tweaking, re-inventing themselves, and as such are always in need of constant monitoring and coordination. Collaboration with Content on a regular basis, even at the philosophical and strategic level provides the richest medium for progress. As a technologist, I have found myself more and more becoming involved in the evangelistic acceptance of Interactive Media as a way to transform the fabric of government.

Recommendations:
Under "3. Take Care of outstanding business.", in the OMB Memo, request that all agencies...

a. Prepare a brief 'current configuration of web resources' or State of the Agency Web. (Major Web assets, including synopsis of domains, locations, uses of Web 2.0 services, organization and governance, server technology, etc.)

b. Request staff level POC's (Content and Infrastructure) for interface with the Web Policy Council (Federal Web Governance), to represent the Agency on this body. These staffers would comprise the Federal Web Governance body and provide liaison for the member agencies.

c. Submit a Roster of suitable staff (Content and Infrastructure) from the Agency to be available for Details to OMB (or managing Federal Agency) in order to work on development of the Federal Web Governance policies, or projects designed to provide operating guidance and policy to the different aspects involved in carrying out the Open Gov Directive, as outlined in the January 21st Open Gov Directive. These details would be for staff from any location in the Agency (DC or regional offices) for a period of 60-90 days. This would not only provide the Federal Web group with valuable input from experienced Federal Web Staff, it would also provide the connection and collaboration to carry the fruit back to the Agency.

Jed said...

Great stuff, Candi!

In addition to sanctioning the FWMC as the implementation coordinating body, I'd like to see the OMB wield its influence over pursestrings to create real incentives for agencies to employ best practices. There's already a great deal of talent in DC to provide guidance on best practices, but no one has any teeth. The OMB can play a huge role here by rewarding agencies that create useful, accessible, optimize, standards-compliant websites.

And I'd argue that many government websites need web teams. The web manager as you describe it is essential, but who are they managing? A good enterprise website is built by back-end coders, front-end coders, as well as graphic and interaction designers.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop here. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and writing this great thought provoking piece!

DVA said...

Great posting. We DEFINITELY need better use of the power of the internet for both vertical and horizontal collaboration, particularly in the area of homeland security planning and policy development.

Gwynne said...

Candi, a thought-provoking post, as always. I agree with pretty much everything you say, but in a way it seems that you might be using the Web or websites as a proxy for something else.

For example, why is the web seen by some as vanity press? I would offer that this is a symptom of a bigger disease. The "I love me" folks are doing I love me through their range of duties/communications.

So if the disease is bigger, I worry that the treatment could be too narrow. Is the problem web sites? Or is the problem weak commitment to citizen services?

Thanks for a post that gets me thinking. :-)