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The Best of 2010

OK, holidays are nearing an end; and I’m back to thinking about government communications and customer service. What a year it’s been! Great progress in some areas, like social media. Modest progress toward our long-time goal to make top customer tasks easier to find and use. Not much progress at all (in fact, slippage) in reducing the volume of government content that customers have to wade through to find what they want. But hey – we’re about to welcome a new year, and I’d much rather focus on the positive outcomes of 2010. So, in reverse order (a la Letterman), here are my top 5 “Bests.”

Number 5: Web Manager University’s movement toward a certification program
For years, we’ve talked about needing a web manager certification program. The Federal Web Managers Council came up with a draft position description (with skills) years ago, and Web Manager University has offered courses in those skills areas from its beginning. But this year, we started seeing movement toward that certification program. Yay! Oh, it’s subtle. But look at the course titles…a number of them that include, “Essentials of…” A couple of those courses are already identified as “core” courses. Getting core courses in place is a critical step toward a certification program in government web management or – maybe – government customer service and communications. Looking forward to that next step…soon, I hope.

Number 4: Govloop
Govloop wasn’t born in 2010 – it’s actually a couple of years old. But it really exploded in 2010. If you’re a government employee (at any level of government) or interested in government issues, this social network is a terrific place to share your ideas, connect with like-minded people, find job openings, or just witness the truly “awesome” (a favorite word used by Govloop founder, Steve Ressler) passion for good government. This meeting place is a terrific asset, and I think its use (and power) will continue to grow in the coming years. Kudos to Steve, Andrew, Megan, Lauren, and Stephen (and the foresight of GovDelivery) not only for giving govies a place to convene, but also for nurturing the community with weekly email summaries and regular Tweets about new content and ideas.

Number 3: GSA’s leadership in government communications
I talked about this in my last blog piece, so I won’t spend a lot of time here. But leadership is essential for real progress, and GSA has to be commended for strong, sure, and visionary leadership. They are bringing the federal communications community together; offering tools and guidance to foster commonality across government (a huge plus for great customer service); and hiring, promoting, and turning loose some of the best communicators in the government to lead all these efforts. I look forward to great things from GSA, in 2011.

Number 2: Emerging focus on customer service
In the past year, many (dare I hope “most?”) in the government web communications community have made that leap from “web management” to “customer service management.” That may seem like semantics to you; but to me, it’s a big step toward better government service. When you stop thinking in terms of “the web” (which is really a delivery channel) and start thinking about “customer service,” you shift the focus to the result, the broader goal…instead of the means, the process. You think about all the ways we serve customers…through the web, phone, mail, email, in person, publications…and how important it is to connect those dots, to make sure that we’re delivering high quality, efficient, consistent service no matter how our customers find us. This is a very good thing for citizens.

And the Number 1 “Best of 2010:” the Plain Writing Act!
After tons of effort by the government employees in PLAIN (Plain Language Action and Information Network), by the members of the Center for Plain Language (whose motto is “plain language is a civil right”), and by many others, Congress passed – and President Obama signed – the Plain Writing Act of 2010. It requires federal agencies to provide “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”

I know…this should be a “duh!” But anyone who has ever read a government document or visited a government website knows that much of our writing…well, frankly, sucks. It needs to be simpler, more concise, and more clear. And it needs to be organized better. We need words our customers use and understand and better organization and formatting (things like headers and sub-headers and bullets and white space). Having a law that requires the federal government to improve writing is the boost we’ve needed to cause real change in this fundamental of customer service.

Web managers have been talking about better writing, better organization, “less is more,” knowing your audience, and all those great concepts, for years. But without the management mandate, we lacked the clout to make it happen. Well, now we’ve got it. Now, there’s no excuse for those bloated, convoluted, incomprehensible documents and websites that leave customers scratching their heads and turning away, disgusted that the government that should be serving them doesn’t seem to know how. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this law will have the desired impact. But it’s a great start.

And while I’m on the subject of Plain Language…another good thing that happened in 2010 was the first Clearmark Plain Language Awards, sponsored by the Center for Plain Language. Nominations for the 2011 Clearmark Awards are being accepted now. So if you think you’ve got a document or website that really hits the mark, nominate it for an award. Deadline is January 21. As govies work to improve writing, they need examples. As Mel Brooks puts it…If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

2010 was a pretty exciting year. Now, onward to 2011. Can’t wait to see what will happen next!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Related Posts
Evolving from Managing Websites to Managing Customer Service
Customer Service Mantra: Listen, Respect, Follow
Bring on the Plain Writing Act

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Thanks for the kind words.

And I think #2 is so important. In the end it’s about serving the mission and customer service is often the #1 item.

Christina Morrison

I would add the passage of the Telework Bill to
my Best of 2010 list! They say, the best things come to those who wait, and
we’ve been waiting a long time for teleworking to become a reality for
government employees. Onward to 2011 where we’ll see this new law take affect
and realize its benefits.

Tim Evans

On #1 (and I’ve made this comment before in other forums), having been around government for a really long time, we’ve been through this before, with little lasting results. When Jimmy Carter was President, “Operation Common Sense” orders went out across Government to write our documents (no web then) in plain language. We all know how effective a President Jimmy Carter was, and so it was with Operation Common Sense.

Plain Language now having actually been codified in law will surely help. But just as “Common Sense” became a verb in the 70’s, “Plain” is, too. Just shows you how we, um, don’t even talk plain.