Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Three Pieces Make A Whole Better Online Government

Last week’s Government Web Manager Conference was historic in many ways. But one of the most significant outcomes is that Macon Phillips (the government’s New Media lead) and Vivek Kundra (the government’s head CIO) acknowledged the third distinct group of players at the table: Web Managers. Neither of them was there to assert authority over Web Managers or suggest that Web Managers should be subject to their oversight. They simply encouraged them to step up and do what Web Managers do best: deliver government online services to citizens so they are useful, usable, and effective. There are three distinct pieces to this puzzle of online government, and we citizens need all three to fit together seamlessly if we are to be served well.

So why is this significant? Well, let’s clear the air. It's no secret there have been some rubs between Web Managers and CIOs and Public Affairs Offices (where New Media Directors are emerging) over the years. If we can put those on the table, learn from them, and move on, citizens will be much better served.

Web Managers and Public Affairs Offices have grappled over “mission” versus “message” from the beginning. Web Managers are most interested in featuring top tasks – those government services that citizens want most. Public Affairs Offices are charged with promoting the agency’s and administration’s message. Where’s the rub? Sometimes there are issues over top billing, and sometimes that line between “mission” and “message” can be pretty thin.

I think the rub between Web Managers and CIOs goes back to the “E-Government” program. Congress, the President, and OMB gave the lead (and the money) for the E-Gov program to the CIOs and pretty much ignored Web Managers. In fact, you need both strong technology and strong audience knowledge and communication skills to serve the public online. So it was destined to be a problem from the get-go.

But all of that is history. The good thing about history is that you can learn from it and not make the same mistakes. Which brings me back to last week’s Web Manager Conference. Our current leaders put all of that behind us and said, basically, “we recognize that there are three pieces in this puzzle and we need all three if we’re going to create the best possible government.” Bravo! Onward and upward.

So what, specifically, should we look to each group to do?

New Media

Macon laid out three objectives for his team:

  • Support the President's message,
  • Use technology to introduce a new level of transparency, and
  • Public participation: trying to understand how people can have an impact on their government, and how to better structure those things.


Vivek has identified 5 major goals

  • Open and transparent government
  • Lowering the cost of government. Doing a better job defining requirements and making better choices about technology investments.
  • Cyber-security.
  • Participatory democracy. Creating meaningful ways for citizens to engage in government decision-making.
  • Innovation. Finding new and less-costly ways to use technology for the benefit of all.

Web Managers

The Federal Web Managers Council – and the broader Government Web Manager Forum – has laid out this strategic plan:

“We believe the public should be able to:

  • Accomplish their most top government tasks online quickly and easily
  • Access government content online whenever and however they need it
  • Have direct online interactions with their government
  • Trust government web content to be accurate, timely, easy to understand, and coordinated across agencies

To achieve this vision, we’ve chosen one primary goal on which our community will focus: Improve how the public accomplishes their most top government tasks online.”

These are all great goals, and many of these goals are pretty distinct. But yes – there are a few areas of overlap…transparency and citizen engagement are the most obvious. Those overlaps will have to be discussed, and the groups will have to collaborate. Sure, there will still be rubs. But you know what? That’s healthy tension. Where they don’t have complete agreement (or autonomy), they’ll have to be innovative in finding ways to satisfy them all. And healthy tension normally produces the best possible results for citizens, in the end. I read a great quote recently: “Without resistance, we cannot fly!” Indeed.

So now what? Well, a good place to start would be for the leaders of those three puzzle parts to get together to agree on: what each will do, where they will coordinate, and how they will communicate regularly, so they can address any issues before they become debilitating.

What's past is past, and the future looks incredibly bright! These are the right three pieces, and – together – they can make a whole better government for you and me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A CWO position should be mandated by OMB and created in every agency (along with a budget for all New Media). It should be eleveated alongside the CIO role.