National Dialog on Government Websites Is Over – What’s Next?

So the 2+ week National Dialog on Government Websites is over. It ended last night with 436 ideas, 1,663 comments, and 8,259 votes submitted by 992 contributors. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, the whole thing is archived for reference. Take a look – I think you’ll be impressed by the quality of the discussion.

Now, the obvious question is: what’s next? Well, the .Gov Reform Task Force will be reviewing the results and using it to help shape government web policy. Here are 3 outcomes I’d like to see.

  1. Require agencies to create an annual content review process, and require the agency head to certify to OMB that all web content is current and accurate. One of the big reasons we’re in this mess with too many government websites is that agencies aren’t held accountable for their content. Ask just about any government web manager, and they’ll tell you there are huge sections of their websites that are seldom (maybe never) used or reviewed. Agency managers have to be held responsible for the content they publish. And there have to be consequences for content neglect (lose posting rights or set a trigger to remove any content not used/reviewed in 1 year or some other appropriate action). We’ve got to get a handle on government web content, and accountability is part of the answer.
  2. Require agencies to archive important – but obsolete – content for future reference. Lots of discussion on various ideas in this Dialog about separating “evergreen” content from content with a short shelf life and archiving content. We have to balance content management demands with the principles of transparency and open government. I think the website that my friend, Sam Gallagher, created is a terrific solution to this problem. He moved important historical content from the “live” site to the archive site – content like speeches and initiatives from previous administrations; dated content like funding announcements and grant applications; press releases; statistical reports older than 1 year; and information about obsolete programs. You can get to the archives site from HUD’s home page, and you can search the archives. Content on the archives site is clearly marked “archived” in the header, and the date archived is at the bottom of the page. It keeps important content available to the public, but it separates it from content that needs to be reviewed and managed. It’s one great solution to the problem of clutter and bloated websites.
  3. Establish a customer service strategy that addresses both the front end – creating/improving services so they’re easy to find and easy to use – and the back end, customer support. Lots of ideas fit into this great hope: rewrite websites using plain language, organize around topics and customer groups instead of agencies, simplify online services, require usability testing before launch, and more. One idea that captured my attention is to establish an ombudsman to help customers who get stuck or confused. Gerry McGovern published a spot-on article this week that predicts “the future is about service,” and he talks about the value of customer support. We’ve also got to humanize our services; and several ideas – have a human on the other end, use real-time chats, and others – got at this notion. But overall, we’ve got to stop thinking in terms of delivery channels and start thinking in terms of service. We need to focus on “what,” instead of “how.” We must understand how customers consume our services. We need to make sure they get the same answers and seamless service, whether they use the web, the phone, a letter, a publication or – as often happens – a combination. I’d like to see the White House and OMB and the Federal Web Managers Council and the CIO Council and GSA get behind a clear strategy that looks at the big picture of service, which includes – but is not limited to – websites.

The .Gov Task Force has a huge challenge. I’m both excited and optimistic about the results. So what can we do to help? Keep talking. Keep thinking. Keep contributing. If you’re a webbie inside government, get involved in the government Web Managers Forum. For those of us outside government, let’s keep blogging and Tweeting and seizing opportunities for participation. The National Dialog on Government Websites shows that – together – we can figure this out.

PS – Huge congrats to GSA’s Sheila Campbell, Lisa Nelson, and Alycia Piazza and others who managed the Dialog. Well done!

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Marilyn Langfeld

Thanks for the analysis/next steps and also the archive for reference. This is an important source of information for anyone working in/with government web sites.