June 20, 2012 at 6:21 pm #164563
Some Government agencies still have separate departments/offices/managers for the web team and the communications team. Yes, the two teams must collaborate — but, no, they are not completely integrated. How many of you still have distinct offices and management for your agency’s external web site and the communications/public affairs players? Shouldn’t these teams be housed in one office for better coordination and messaging? If not, why?
June 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm #164591
June 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm #164589
A significant number of federal agencies, which I have had some relationship with, are still trying to come to grips that the external web team is in fact an important function of communications.
Another issue: Single office works fairly well where the agency has ONE general location and function, not so good where regional offices exist and in some cases, the regional office has a complete different function. Yes there needs to be collaboration both between the web team and communication team but IMO there also needs to be collaboration between the multiple web teams and communication teams.
What I have seen happen (and it tended to work fairly well) Each region/function has a public affairs team and web development team (they may or may not be physically located in the same office) and they get overall guidance(to various degrees) from the “headquarters”.
June 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm #164587
Both our internal and external web teams (basically the same team does both sites) exist within the public affairs office with support from the information systems management office.
June 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm #164585
Thanks for your always insightful and informative comments, Henry. My agency has 53 field offices nationwide (including one in Puerto Rico), but there’s only one external web site and one web team based at HQ. I would argue that an agency’s main web site is the most visible vehicle for communications and branding — since the site can be accessed worldwide, and often is. Moreover, the web site may be the first interaction between an agency and the public, customers, stakeholders, etc. Thus, the web site may set the tone for overall communications and public engagement, generally. Having the “webmaster” outside the communications function may be more of a turf battle within some agencies, than a theoretical debate. Although many managers outside of the communications office probably still don’t get it. An agency’s leadership should ensure that the web folks get with the (communications) program!
June 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm #164583
That’s an interesting comment, Pamela, as I’ve found that some agency external web sites and intranet sites are managed by different offices (like IT, for example) — with neither one being part of the official communications office/team. Go figure?
June 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm #164581
Would offer that if leadership ensures that maximum collaboration is a continous process shouldn’t be a problem but???!!!!….
The separate floors, I suspect, would be one of the smaller issues that the two different teams would have to deal with it ensure maximum collaboration.
As far as different teams, suspect that there would always be issues with a major difference in functions however that is what STRONG leadership should be all about
June 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm #164579
Would suggest that maybe EEOC might be half-way there, My understanding of the EEOC mission would indicate that all field offices would have the same mission, unlike some other agencies.
Would offer that if there is less than ideal leadership providing collaboration it will work even poorer with multiple field/regional offices.
June 20, 2012 at 10:34 pm #164577
Our system works well, Henry, even though the communications and web teams have always been separate. As you noted, all field offices have the same mission and functions, which helps the flow of online info to be fairly uniform. The communications office is very small, being a relatively small Federal agency, and operates mainly as a content provider for eeoc.gov. I’m guesing that internal resource allocations may dictate web operations and staffing, as the web team is housed in a larger program office. The issue of combining the web team with communications has been discussed over the years. However, scarce resources may be limiting any transition for the forseeable future. Also, as you well know, priorities often change with different Administrations. Nevertheless, as stated, the comms staff and web staff operate well together, despite being in different offices on different floors. Also, being on different floors in a vast older building helps with the walking/exercise factor — although most coordination is still done by phone and e-mail. Thanks again for your comments, Henry, which are always appreciated.
June 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm #164575
In past agencies, I’ve seen the tech side of web in CIO shop and content side in public affairs.
June 21, 2012 at 3:09 pm #164573
That seems to make the most sense to me.
June 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm #164571
Steve, thanks for the exemplary input, as always. It appears that there’s a wide variation of web team locations by agency. Perhaps, the Cabinet-level departments and larger agencies are better able to integrate the web, intranet, IT and comms functions due to greater funding and human capital. Therefore, I wonder if a uniform model based on agency size and budget would be effective? Then there’s the question of contracting out for web functions and whether that would be more effective?
I’ve seen some agencies have the IT folks run the intranet, while the web team is housed within a separate and larger program office, and the comms teams generally provides content (along with other program offices) — as you diligently point out. It would be interesting to determine if there’s any nexus between “good” and “bad” web sites per the composition and location of web teams within particular agencies. Perhaps there would be some discernable pattern that could be used to make the “bad” web sites better? Just thinking out loud here. Thanks again, Steve!
June 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm #164569
June 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm #164567
I’ve been with two different sub-agencies and they both had the Web team live in the IT group and had a “main customer” as the Congressional & Public Affairs office… The problem is two management teams (not to mention the contractor management team as the web team always seems to be made of contractors) AND responsibilities of the web team to work with members of every office and region (who post info to the internal or external sites) who aren’t in these two “managing” departments.
- IF the IT office management has any IT experience it is typically with applications and not with websites (despite common tools and frequently common processes; web is always treated as the red-headed step-child).
- IF a Fed-side webmaster is assigned they are trained from the ground up (if they are willing) or are never more than a figurehead. Often this is a Communications office staffer who has many other duties and simply does not have time to dedicate to the website.
- The Communications office tends to be print-focused and non-technical…but OWNS the websites.
- The staff assigned to manage disparate pieces of the site are frequently administrative staff who have neither authority to make decisions nor web skills (or any formatting skills related to websites). Also, these staff are rarely made responsible (through reviews) for the task, it is an “add on.”
This leads to some interesting issues.
- Redesign decisions are often made by the political appointee heading the Comm office. Expectations are based on previous work on much smaller websites or no previous experience at all. In some cases, little interest in any online tool unless it makes them look cool.
- Although the Comm office has ultimate control and say, they have a hard time controlling actions by the entire agency (20 people making changes to 6000+ pages) if they don’t spend funds.
- Funding for the websites is often from a variety of sources through specific design initiatives but which can’t be used for maintenance activities. The IT department is typically just keeping their heads above water with equipment and necessary applications and rarely has set-aside funds for website O&M.
- Large websites are complex. Even well designed sites need to be fed often with good content, removal of old content, etc. Staff NEVER has time to perform reviews of the site.
- The Web team is not (and must not) be content gurus for the site. They can suggest areas (such as the calendar which suddenly went blank on January 1st) to be updated to the staffers who “own” the content, but they cannot do much more than pester folks who are performing many other agency tasks.
- Technical requests that come to the web team are often time-sensitive and have been determined without any knowledge of the actual tasks, time, or effort involved. These are often abandoned following valiant effort to accomplish the impossible. Although the requirement was known by someone, somewhere for months, it only became a web task in the last 36 hours… and who knew it took more time than we have?
This isn’t only a problem in the Fed world, by the way, I’ve seen it in academia and the private sphere also. The ownership of the website, funding, and leadership all in the same team; knowledgeable leaders and dedicated staff supporting regular review tasks; and maintenance by a trained, empowered, tasked staff is a dream many of us in the biz think of fondly but unrealistically.
March 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm #164565
This is a common setup in higher education, too! We have worked with one university that is spectacular at facilitating collaboration between their Marketing/Communications team and their Web/IT team. They call it the “partnership model” and we have actually written a case study about it. Check it out: http://www.hannonhill.com/customers/case-studies/University-of-new-brunswick1.html
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