Monday, December 28, 2009


Well, here we are…at the end of another year. I don’t know about you, but I always use this last week of the year to reflect and get re-centered for the coming year.

As I looked through my blog posts over the year, I see a trend. I started out high on the optimism that comes with a new President, hopeful that all wrongs would be righted and all dreams would come true. Well, needless to say, that didn’t happen. I really didn’t think it would…but I did HOPE.

I also looked through some of the email I’ve received from my web colleagues this year. Again, there’s that trend…high on hope at the beginning and, over the months, reality sets in. In some cases, there’s even despair. Well, yes, there are some worrisome things going on…pressure to push administration “news” overwhelming the great need to improve online services; a surprising (disappointing) number of new websites - some that look redundant, some that clearly are vanity sites, and many that show no real appreciation for usability standards – adding to the already enormous bloat of online government information; and in some cases, experienced and knowledgeable web managers being pushed aside (and even out) for trying to do what they know citizens want.

But there also are good things happening…the web manager community as a whole has come together and is being recognized for their ideas; government websites are being used to engage citizen participation in unprecedented ways; and some of the threshold issues in web management that need to be resolved are being aired and discussed at the appropriate levels. All in all, not a bad year. But what’s next? What will the new year bring? More important, what can I (and you) do to make it better?

Well, here’s where the title of this blog piece comes in. Believe! Let me digress a bit.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Macy’s mothership store (the one on 34th St. in New York), and I looked up to see a huge sign that said, “Believe!” It was their Christmas theme, and there’s no doubt that all those kids dropping their letters to Santa in the big “wish box” were taking it to heart. For some reason, that sign really struck me. It got me thinking about what everything comes down to – knowing what you believe…following your own beliefs. Keeping them in site. Using them to ground you when the going gets tough AND when you’re high on success. Reviewing them periodically to make sure they’re still right, and – if they are – recommitting yourself to upholding them. Showing in your actions what you believe in your head and heart.

So, as I reflect on the past year in the world of government web management and the possibilities for next year, here’s what I believe:

I believe in public service. I believe it’s a noble profession that attracts people who want to serve, not sell, and who want to help others, not themselves. I believe that public servants are committed and smart and resourceful and capable of solving any problem and overcoming any obstacle. I believe that once you’re a public servant, you’re always a public servant – that it’s a life-long passion, not just a job. I believe that, if you are a public servant, you do what you can (even if it’s only lobbing in some ideas through a blog) to help citizens.

I believe in courage and common sense. I believe that the best of us take risks to do the right thing. I believe that we don’t give up – that we keep looking for ways around the “no’s” and that we push on, despite the obstacles. I believe that best practices come from common sense approaches.  I believe that if we trust our common sense, show courage even when we feel powerless, and speak up even when we face disapproval, we can solve any problem and achieve any goal.

I believe in the power of the community. I believe that we serve best when we serve together. I believe in building critical mass and sharing what we know and using the combined knowledge, wisdom, and talents of our colleagues to cause real, positive, lasting change.

Above all, I believe in doing the right thing for the American people. I know that if we use this value as our compass and articulate our goals based on this belief, we cannot be wrong. And I believe that if we do right things that serve the public well, then we have succeeded.

These are my beliefs. Maybe some of them are your beliefs, too. Whatever…maybe – like me - you’ll use this last week of the year to sit down and think about what you really believe in. Get yourself re-centered. And then think about what you can do next year to show that you “believe!”

Happy New Year, one and all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time For a Re-Think of

When was born, a central links directory of the government was a huge asset. Now, however, citizens turn to Google for lists of links. So if is to add value, I think it’s time for a major re-think of its purpose. It’s an important discussion…one that impacts - and therefore should involve - the whole web manager community - and beyond.

So what could do that no one is doing now? To me it’s obvious. There’s a huge void that needs to be filled. We need a one-stop “government service center.” We need a place where we citizens can go and find everything we need to know about the most used, most important government services. We need it to be written in terms we understand, with as few steps between getting to the site and leaving the site a satisfied customer, as possible. We need one place to draw the very best advice and service that government has to offer, synthesized so that citizens don’t have to go from link to link, agency to agency, trying to figure out what their options are. We need content that says, “start here” and “have you thought about this?” We need decision trees…is this your situation? Go here. Is that your situation? Go there.

How do you do that? Turn into a CONTENT site – not a links site. Focus on top tasks – starting with the things that citizens are most worried about today…how do I find affordable housing? How do I keep my home? How can I put healthy meals on the table when I don’t have much money? How can I send my kids to college? I just lost my job - where can I find a new job, and what can I do to keep a roof over my head and feed my family until I get that new job? I’m a Boomer and was planning to retire – what are my options in this economy?

Turn the staff into content leaders. Convene teams from across agencies, around the services citizens want most. Include agency web managers and web writers, but also subject matter experts. Involve plain language experts. And for Pete’s sake, get some usability experts involved from planning through execution and evaluation.

Get citizen involvement – don’t sit around and second-guess what makes sense to citizens. And make that involvement routine, to keep the content fresh, focused, and on target. Use new media to tell citizens about this new content. Make that part of the strategy. Cycle experienced agency web managers through GSA to help with the effort. Give the staff editorial responsibility – we need someone who can say, “no, we’re not going to use that junk” and “yes, you DO need to re-write that content to make it more citizen-friendly.”

Start small and build. Don’t wait until you get it all together and then roll out a new website. Get a couple of services together and put it up. See what works, what doesn’t; and then do more. Call it a pilot, to get started.

Add a human component. Use that wonderful online chat service that already has to assist citizens through these services. Bring in subject matter experts who can actually answer citizens’ questions – not just refer them to more links. Many years ago, I talked about the need for governmentwide “ombudsmen” – government employees with broad knowledge about a variety of government services whose job is to just work with citizens – online – to help them navigate government processes when they stumble. Maybe it’s time to give that idea another look-see.

Use this as an opportunity to start downsizing the inventory of government websites and consolidating government web content. Write MOUs with the agencies, getting them to agree that – when the content is absorbed into - they’ll pull it off the agency site. Eventually, experiment with consolidating services through layers of government, so citizens don’t have to know whether what they need is federal, state, or local.

OK – you may agree or not. But here’s the bottom line: I’m convinced it IS time to come up with a new paradigm for  Let’s think big.

Update December 15:  GSA has just posted a link on the front of asking the public to join the discussion about's future.  This is your chance to weigh in - please do!