Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh My Gosh…They’re Getting It Right!

I’m literally doing a happy dance (and no, that’s not something you’d want to see)! I just read in Nancy Scola’s blog piece on TechPresident that Google's Katie Jacobs Stanton will be joining the White House as the new Director of Citizen Participation. Now that, in itself, is very good news…that the Obama administration values citizen participation is huge. That he made such an excellent choice for that post is terrific. But what’s really got me excited was this: “Stanton, sources say, will be part of the White House New Media Team headed up by Macon Phillips -- putting ‘citizen participation’ under the White House communications umbrella, it seems.” Oh my gosh…they’re getting it right!

Do you realize how powerful this could be for those of us who champion providing good citizen service via the web? To look at citizen participation and new media as part of government communications, at the highest level…well, that is exactly what needs to be done to make major improvements in government web management. I was optimistic about the changes these folks might bring about for our community, but this is the first hard proof that it’s happening. Sorry – but I just have to do this: Woo Hoo!!!

I’d started working on a very different blog piece…about some things that have been worrying me. I’m concerned about seeing new government websites spring up that seem to duplicate existing sites… (mandated by Congress – which is a whole other problem) sounds very similar to, for example. The new seems to replicate – at least in part – Are people just putting up new websites rather than fixing the old ones? Are we so worried about having clever URLs to promote that we lose sight of the fact that we’re possibly/probably creating yet more duplication?

Then there are the brainstorming “camps” that seem to be springing up everywhere. Don’t get me wrong – I think bringing feds and advocates and experts and citizens together to brainstorm is terrific. Long overdue. But do we really need 3 different workshops that will/should talk about the same problems/issues/solutions? How will the results be synthesized? Who will have the authority and resources to implement anything that comes out of these “camps?”

Well, maybe we have an answer for my concerns. Maybe it’s this new team at the White House.

Now if the Web Managers Council – and, by extension, the Government Web Managers Forum - can just get plugged into this White House team (and I suspect they will!), then maybe – together - they can address those threshold issues and make the changes that are needed to make U.S. government websites the citizen service and engagement centers they should be.

You go, Katie and Macon!

Related posts
What’s missing from e-gov? A mandate to communicate
Are we ready for e-democracy?
We need a communications czar shines the light on a big problem: redundancy

Related link
Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government

Monday, January 12, 2009

To Everything There Is a Season

I stumbled on an old memo, the other day. It was a July 2001 memo from the fledgling Web Content Managers Forum (with its 59 members) to Mark Foreman, President Bush’s first E-Gov czar. Though the Forum had formed only months before (October 2000), we hoped to get the attention of this new official, asking to engage in a discussion of web content management issues.

“We need to talk about content issues we are facing: how to assess what our customers want and need, how to generate and maintain content that is citizen-friendly, how to measure whether we’re delivering content in ways they find useful, how to promote and market our web sites, how to manage the ever-growing numbers of e-mails generated by our web sites, and how to overcome organizational cultures and values that inhibit our efforts to create e-government and e-governance.”

We hand-delivered that memo, but – alas – we never got a response.

Now, 8 years later, the Federal Web Managers Council – the leadership committee of the Web Content Managers Forum (now 1,500 strong!) has issued a White Paper that is getting top-level attention not only from the incoming Obama administration, but around the world. To everything there is a season.

The same month we sent that memo to Mark Foreman (July 2001), Sam Gallagher (HUD’s current Web Manager and my long-time associate) and I were asked to do a presentation for the annual E-Gov conference. We decided to end it with a “sky’s the limit” section, offering some of our ideas about the possibilities for the future. Honestly, I think most people thought we were nuts. The session wasn’t very well reviewed. Here’s what we projected:

"Possibility 1: One single government database; citizens go through one door; integration of all government levels; eliminates silos and layers

Possibility 2: Many/most government employees work from home or from cross-agency work centers; citizens want government services at all times - employees work non-traditional schedules to deliver; new job: “subject specialists” (knowledgeable about info from all levels of government) help guide citizens through options

Possibility 3: Online communities form and look for power; citizens find support from “virtual friends;” government will struggle with its role in these communities and the impact of these communities on bricks and mortar communities

Possibility 4: Citizens become government; citizens demand to be involved; virtual teams/work groups work together from legislation to implementation; government’s role: teacher/enabler (not parent/implementer)

Possibility 5: Nationwide access to internet; Federal internet centers in every community; public/private partnerships provide wireless access in remote areas; web access through TVs

Possibility 6: Consolidation of government programs; portals highlight overlaps/redundancies; public demands consolidation"

To everything there is a season.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Citizen Service – That’s What It’s All About

Wouldn’t it be great if the new administration made “citizen service” a real priority…treated it like one of the most important products of government? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they issued a press release saying, “we’re going to embrace the 6 principles of citizen service identified by the Federal Web Managers Council in their white paper, 'Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government,' and make that our vision for citizen service in this country?”

When then interact with their government, every citizen should be able to:

  1. “Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
  2. Understand information the first time they read it;
  3. Complete common tasks efficiently;
  4. Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
  5. Provide feedback and ideas and hear what the government will do with them;
  6. Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English.”

Wouldn’t it be great if they pulled service delivery functions (websites, call centers, publication centers, information centers) together, under one umbrella, making sure that citizen services are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible? What a great message that would give the American people – to let them know that serving them really is what government is all about.