Putting Citizens First: Carewords for transformation?

Gerry McGovern, Neo Insight, and other partners in Customer Carewords have worked with government organizations in many countries over the years, evangelizing and implementing task-based approaches to managing government websites.

A few weeks ago, Gerry did a webinar for 400 US government people. He was introduced by Sheila Campbell, co-chair of the U.S. Federal Web Managers Council. She told the audience that these task management ideas had strongly influenced a white paper which the Council wrote in November 2008 for the Presidential Transition Team.

The white paper “Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government” (PDF 47KB) is extremely succinct. In its 3 pages, it identifies the core problems of many government websites, and makes focused recommendations. “Putting citizens first” isn’t empty political rhetoric: the recommendations are exciting, but simple and specific. Here are some of the highlights, which we feel are just as applicable to government website management here in Canada.

The State of the Nation’s websites
The authors recognize the challenges facing government organizations, and the impact on citizens; for example:

“…many websites tout organizational achievements, instead of
delivering basic information and services.”

They note that, while a number of initiatives are improving the situation, “a high-level mandate from the new Administration is needed to quickly and radically transform government websites.”

The vision

The authors put forward a vision that “…when [citizens] need government information and services online, they will be able to:

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

Specific recommendations are provided against these issues. Many of these are very applicable to the Canadian context, and we highlight just two of them below.

Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently
Under this heading, the notion of “citizen productivity” is raised, and the impact to the economy of wasting citizens’ time and effort on poorly-designed websites. We discussed this very issue in our July 2008 article: Managing your users’ tasks: 6 measures you need to know.

We believe it is vital that senior managers should know, measure and benchmark the top tasks of their website users. This is the key to moving from a technology-centred view to a citizen-centred view. Perhaps the most important recommendation is made in this section:

Agencies should be required and funded to identify their core
online customer tasks, and to develop service standards and
performance benchmarks for completing those tasks.”

Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online
We smiled at this one :-) The recent move to CLF 2.0 made many Canadian government departments realise the sheer burden of maintenance and non-productive activity that large websites create. There are many root causes. For example, funding that is project-based, and which neglects to take account of ‘whole life’ costs including long-term maintenance, is guaranteed to generate increasing support and management demands that soon overwhelm the available resources.

Our websites are not under-resourced: we have over-burdened our good people with an increasing and overwhelming amount of low-value maintenance work. It’s the websites that need to be fixed, not the people.

And what about Canadian government websites?
If you know (or manage!) a Canadian government website, these topics may have resonated with you. The other topics in the white paper apply equally well to the Canadian context.

When we brought Gerry McGovern to Ottawa to hold his Masterclass in 2007 and again in 2008, it was obvious that there was a groundswell of frustration amongst the hundreds of government attendees, and a desire to break through barriers to create websites that serve Canadian citizens better.

The attendees in 2008 provided us with around 30 “Top messages to senior managers”. Their very top 3 were:

  1. Delete outdated/irrelevant content, and implement an ongoing review strategy
  2. Focus on what people are trying to accomplish on the website
  3. Focus on the customer task, not the politics

Sound familiar? Our issues here in Canada are not so different from the U.S.. If you are involved in any way with government websites, we urge you to read the “Putting Citizens First” white paper, circulate it to other concerned people, get it in front of your senior managers, and start to implement some of the simple recommendations that – very quickly – will reap benefits for you, for your over-burdened team, for citizens and for the Canadian economy.

See more information on applying our Customer Carewords process in a government context and our usability benchmarking approach: Task Performance Indicators.

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Quote of the month

“Organizations are flooded with content, but that content doesn’t become information and information doesn’t turn into knowledge unless someone knows it’s there, can get to it with minimal pain, and can repurpose it by creating new information from existing content.”

JoAnn T. Hackos, Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery


 

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