Last week, I was talking to a friend who is a private sector usability specialist. I asked her if, like me, she is noticing that some agency websites seem to be slipping backwards, featuring agency news rather than top citizen tasks on their home pages. She said that, indeed, she and her colleagues are observing the same thing. It appears that agency public affairs staffs are really getting into websites (and web management) – which is a good thing – but they haven’t yet learned this truth: the public comes to government websites to do things – perform tasks – not read the news. They go to newspaper sites for that.
I can appreciate the learning curve. I also can appreciate that Public Affairs folks have a different mandate than agency Web Managers. Public Affairs is responsible for marketing. Their clients are the agency chiefs. Web Managers are responsible for making sure websites serve the public. Their clients are the audiences. So the disconnect is understandable.
But here’s the thing: turning government agency websites into newspapers is not what the public wants or expects. As important, it is the antithesis of what President Obama has urged of all government: participation, collaboration, responsiveness to/trust in the citizens who ARE the owners of government.
Putting news and press releases as the featured items at the top of government websites shouts, “me, me, me” – not “you, you, you.” It is not furthering transparency – it’s obscuring service and engagement. In several cases, I’ve seen agency news (including photos of agency officials) crowding out and pushing down links to what the public really wants – top tasks..those services that they pay taxes for. This is a step backward.
There’s no blame game here. People are just trying to do their jobs with all the tools available. The point is that you need to recognize the trend (because we who are looking at you certainly see it) and stop it in its tracks before it gets worse. Maybe you Web Managers invite Public Affairs Officers to some briefings on the facts that you have…the data and evidence (site traffic statistics, usability data, customer satisfaction data, performance measures, emails from the public) that shows conclusively what the public wants from their government websites. If you are a Public Affairs officer, maybe you ask for such a briefing. Maybe you bring in some noted authorities on the subject of government websites and usability research and let them present their findings to the Public Affairs Officers and agency chiefs and Web Managers, together, so there can be a good discussion about how government websites should be used to serve and engage the public and achieve the President’s goals.
Successful websites are audience-centered. That’s not an opinion – that’s a fact. So please…let’s get our government websites back on track. Let’s use them for service and engagement and collaboration – not as surrogate newspapers. Let’s make them shout “you, you, you.” It’s the right thing for the President’s objectives. It’s the right thing for the American public.
Related Links: see GerryMcGovern.com – New Thinking