Time to Lasso That Elephant!

The .Gov Task Force has issued the State of the Federal Web report, summarizing its surveys and the national brainstorming effort it sponsored. It’s a terrific report, full of great data and even better analysis. If you care at all about how customer service in the federal government functions (or should function), this is a “must read.”

Are there any surprises here? Heck no. Many of us – both inside and outside government – have been yammering about the proliferation of government websites, the lack of consistency, bad writing, and the need for easy-to-use “top tasks,” for years. The good news is that now we have the data to support it and a Presidential initiative to fix it.

So, what’s the one absolutely compelling need that jumps out…the elephant in the room? Governance. Governance across agencies. Governance across government. It’s time to wrestle with those 5 “R’s” of governance, establish consistency, and really improve customer service through the web.

What are the 5 “R’s” of governance?

  1. Roles – who, by title, must be involved?
  2. Responsibilities – what must they do?
  3. Relationships – how/when must they interact?
  4. Rules – how will they operate (policies, publication rules, and operating rules)?
  5. Review – how they will make sure that the first four “R’s” are followed and improved (accountability; management controls)?

Roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules do not have to be (shouldn’t be) reinvented agency-by-agency. There are clear models of success out there (just check out Howto.gov). Embrace them. We need to stop the tug of war between communications and technology and customer service and figure out who has the lead and how it needs to be organized, keeping the customer at the center. It’s time.

But the biggie – the one that, without it, all else fails – is “Review.” We need good controls to make sure we’re adhering to “R’s” 1-4. Certification processes are great. But if no one spot-checks to make sure those certifications are accurate, who cares? If we don’t do something about noncompliance, why should anyone comply? Content management systems can help. They can enforce design and approvals. But they can’t fix bad writing. They can’t make sure top tasks are easy-to-use and easy-to-find.

You’ve got to have effective review processes to make sure everything (and everyone) is working according to plan. And there have to be repercussions if it isn’t (you lose your posting rights, you have to take more training, we find someone else to fill your responsibilities, etc.).

The .Gov Task Force is working on a governmentwide web strategy to address the findings documented in the State of the Federal Web report and chart a course for the future. They’ve done a superb job handling this critical initiative, so far; and I look forward to seeing what they do now. It’s a task fraught with peril – there’s so much to be done. This strategy has to be very focused and very practical. But this group looks like it’s up to it. And if they lasso that darned elephant, we’ll see real improvement in customer service.

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Michael McCarthy, APR

It can be a good model fro states and local governments to emulate. On the Federal level, with so many different agencies, it sounds more like you need to Lasso Jumbo!

Dave Hebert

Music … sweet music. Candi, I still tell a story I heard you relate at a Federal Web conference several years ago about having to be the web meanie at HUD for a few years before people (mostly) came around. Three things struck me (and still do):

1. It took a while for the culture to change. Message: You had to be patient.

2. Responsibility for web content fell on program managers (NOT IT and Comm.), and they had to explain to the Deputy Director when their sites weren’t up to snuff. Message: The web is a strategic asset, not a tech. project.

3. You described your approach as “proceed until apprehended.” Message: You had freedom to do your job, and you were ready to be the bad guy for something that was worth it.

Good web is governed. Thanks for the reminder.

Candi Harrison

Always fun to be reminded of things I said, Dave! Yep – the number one thing we all need is courage…courage to do the right thing, even if it’s not the easy thing.