Thursday, March 26, 2009

Worried About Too Many People In the Sandbox? Governance to the Rescue!

This week, we learned that agencies are hiring “new media directors.”

As one who held a “web manager” job description for 10 years, I can tell you that I was a bit alarmed when I saw the new media directors’ duties that would include:

  • “The overall technical performance, maintenance, and development of websites outreach platforms
  • Interpreting and reporting various site statistics on a regular basis, and using these results to improve traffic and the effectiveness of the agency's content and outreach efforts”

Hey – those were MY duties! If I were still a web manager, I’d probably be more than a little concerned.

And then I heard that some CIOs are holding “social media” briefings in agencies. Hey, there’s a whole sub-group of the Federal Web Managers Council who thought they were the champions for social media! What’s the deal here?

Well, there’s good news: there’s plenty of room in this sandbox for everyone – web managers and new media specialists and CIOs. In fact, we need them all. But – and this is so critical – each of them needs to understand and respect what the others bring to the sandbox so they can work together, and not at odds. After all, we all want to build the same thing – an open, transparent government that delivers the services that its citizens want and need. We just need a governance structure to keep us organized.

So – let’s sort this out (and I’m writing this to web managers because…well heck, that’s what this blog is about). Web managers – new media directors will help you market the services you work so hard to provide through the web. They’ll open up new ways to carry the message that government has something for every citizen, help the public see what’s going on in their government (transparency), and help engage the public in the way their government works.

The CIOs will continue to evaluate and bring in new technologies to accomplish agency mission and management goals and to solve management problems. And the new emphasis for CIOs is to figure out how the often atrocious legacy data systems can be coaxed to spew out something that might be useful to the public, to use in ways they want to use it.

You need these folks. And they need you, web managers. They need you to do what you always have done so well: serve as editor-in-chief of websites that exist to deliver government services to citizens as effectively and efficiently as possible. You need to keep identifying “top tasks” – the cream of government services that citizens use most - and working with program managers to make those top tasks as easy to use as possible. You need to continue to look for content that is obsolete and redundant and little-used, so you can strip away clutter that makes top tasks hard to find and use. You need to make sure that the words on the website are words that citizens understand, and you need to organize content in sequences that are logical to citizens. You are the communication and service specialist. You make sure that government websites communicate effectively, so they serve citizens effectively.

Together, new media directors, CIOs, and web managers can be a powerful team. There’s plenty for everyone to do. But here’s the key: you need structure.

You need to figure out – right from the start – how you’re going to work together. Pin down those 5 “R’s” of governance I always talk about: Roles, Responsibilities, Relationships, Rules, and Review. Who does what? How/when will you relate and coordinate? Take a look at your rules (policies, publication procedures, and operating procedures) and see where they need to be adapted to incorporate new media, transparency, public engagement, and public access to data. Make sure everyone knows and understands them. And bosses – make sure you review performance and hold all the players accountable for doing what they’re supposed to do.

Beware: governance can’t be left to happenstance. It must be planned and communicated to all the players. In the absence of governance, you risk misunderstandings, inefficiency, and even chaos. Who has time for that? It won’t just “all work out.” When you have so many players, working for different bosses, you must have a governance structure.

Who should create this governance structure? Well, I have been a proponent of a top level Web Policy Council... But absent that Council, I’m thinking Macon Phillips, New Media Director at the White House; Vivek Kundra, Chief CIO at OMB; and – ut oh…there’s no one at that top level to represent the Web Managers. Hmm… Well, thank goodness - GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Communication has stepped into that void. So GSA, with representatives of the Federal Web Managers Council, can front the web manager community.

This can be sorted out. It’s a big sandbox – everyone can fit. Get the governance in place, and we’re going to build an awesome open, transparent government that delivers the services that its citizens want and need (and pay for!).

Related post

It's Time for Governance


@Campariman said...

Great post Candi. One of the problems I see with non-DOD Fed Depts. is that OPAs are mostly still led by traditional media directors who use the Web component mainly in an O&M, service only-mode even tho we can do so much more in SocMed, etc. That is a great vulnerability IMO of the Feds vs. the private and non-profit sectors. Our audiences are wise to that and living in the 21st century so in the end the Feds (for the most part) are still behind the curve.

tkevans said...

Governance in Government often leads to Rube Goldberg processes: