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Top 5: Reasons Beta.FCC.gov Is Now the Hottest Open Gov Project

In 1998, FCC.gov was considered the best website in government. Other than a redesign in 2001, their website has largely remained unchanged…and quite possibly had become the worst website in government. Here’s a screen shot of how it has looked for much of the past decade:

Yesterday, GovLoop received a sneak peek at the Beta.FCC.gov redesign that was launched this morning. Check it out below:

While the re-design makes it much more sleek and stylish, that’s not why it has vaulted to the top of Federal agency websites. FCC engaged in a comprehensive process of engaging citizens and internal stakeholders to move toward sustainable culture change. Below are five reasons why every Federal agency needs to take note of this signature open government initiative.

As part of the website redesign process, the FCC:

1. Started with citizen feedback. As Managing Director Steve Van Roekel explains in his blog post announcing the re-imagined FCC.gov, “The new FCC.gov comes from you: the citizens who commented on our blog posts, who submitted suggestions on our citizen engagement platforms, who answered our surveys, and who use the site day in and day out to make American technology work.” That’s not just rhetoric. FCC was intentional about listening to citizens, looking at analytics data and building a site that responded directly to known website visitor behaviors and needs. They also integrated Uservoice as a listening tool to gain ongoing citizen feedback and kept improving, iteration after iteration.

2. Respected their internal and external stakeholders to achieve real culture change. Every step of the way, the FCC crowd-sourced feedback and constantly integrated that input from internal stakeholders into their strategy, policy, site navigation and features. They achieved culture change by piloting the new design and tools internally so that people could get their feet wet in a safe, non-threatening, private environment before going public. They also assigned liaisons from the development team to reach out across the agency, educating and engaging their colleagues in the design process. Through this method, FCC was seeking to gain lasting culture change and a website that could continually deliver on their mission needs. Finally, FCC used a gradual roll-out process that maintained the legacy site for a transition period of 4-6 weeks and rolled out the new design in beta. This measured approach ensures that the change didn’t leave users caught off guard.

3. Spoke in plain language. With 40 people across the organization involved in the creation of public-facing information, FCC embarked on an effort to create a common language that was understandable by the public. They created a style guide to ensure a consistent tone across the site. They also compiled an “FCC Encyclopedia” built on a wiki infrastructure so that employees could write and edit language on an internal system before pushing it out to the public.

4. Built it to be dynamic. Taking the FCC Encyclopedia a step further, they asked everyone who made changes to the site to tag their content in order to create metadata that makes it easy for visitors to discover the specific and related content they’re seeking. FCC automated its document generation engine that previously required lots of human power to place content across the site, reducing time and labor costs. The design process itself was dynamic as well, employing agile development processes that reinforced the notion that the website was iterative – listen, build, test, adapt.

5. Built it to be shared and replicated. The entire website is built on Drupal, an open source software that enabled FCC to borrow and share code. From the start, their intention was to give back to the open source community and enable other agencies to follow in their footsteps and potentially cut the time to completion for similar redesigns across government. FCC also created custom embed code so that content could be shared on websites beyond FCC.gov and increase the dissemination of information beyond their own marketing efforts.

BONUS: Moved fast and achieved almost immediate ROI. The entire effort ended up costing the agency $1.4 million – but the project will pay for itself within one year. Moreover, the total schedule leading up to today’s launch was less than 9 months, making it a highly efficient project.

Of course, the FCC is intent on helping other agencies move even faster as they are eager to share their lessons learned on everything from code to culture change. You can learn more or provide any comments/ideas by contacting the following people below. They are actively seeking feedback:

Steve VanRoekel, Managing Director, Twitter

Haley van Dyck, New Media Director, Twitter

Dan McSwain, FCC New Media, Twitter

Please also see Alex Howard's excellent post about the FCC.gov redesign.

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