Best Practices for Managing a Government Website Redevelopment
Prescient Digital Media has been fortunate to have had the experience of working with clients in a wide range of sectors on a variety of projects—from multifaceted portals for complex, geographically dispersed organizations to targeted social media strategies for SMBs.
Included in that mix is government clients at various jurisdictional levels, whose projects are often unique in terms of the sensitivity they need to have toward risk. Their sites are a highly visible means for engaging with and informing citizens and other stakeholders, and the team managing the sites needs to ensure that the content is accurate and credible. In addition, it’s important the information presented on the site is consistent with the overall objectives of the group it represents. Errors on the site can undermine important credibility or, even worse, become a lightning rod for controversy.
While it’s essential that teams managing a government web project need to consider risk, however, they must also guard against allowing sensitivity to risk to become an excuse for inaction. In a world of 24 hour news cycles and minute-by-minute Twitter updates, web audiences are expecting greater acceleration in presentation of content and deployment of new functionality.
That’s not to say that the answer is to simply launch initiatives and hope for the best. Rather, it’s essential that government web teams learn and apply the basics of web project best practices: conduct a strong assessment, develop a consensus-based plan, confirm roles and responsibilities through a governance model and then execute the plan.
Ontario Ministry of Economic Development & Trade Case Study
Earlier this year, I was joined on a webinar by Maureen Hall, Team Leader, Marketing Branch, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development & Trade (MEDT). Prescient had worked with MEDT on preparing the plan for the redevelopment of their web presence, and Maureen prepared a case study based on the experience. During the session, she stressed the importance of effective project management.
“We had to base everything on solid research and if we were going to move forward, we needed a strategic plan that everyone bought into—colleagues within our branch and within other divisions of the Ministry—so that there was some sense of collective responsibility toward the long-term success,” Maureen observed. “We also needed to formalize that support by initiating a governance model to give people an opportunity to contribute and feel ownership.”
The initial challenges MEDT faced when they undertook the project was:
- They operated sites with two distinct audiences that had grown organically and independently over time.
- The sites were content rich, but poorly organized and lacking brand consistency with each other and other marketing collateral.
- Growth and maintenance of the sites was not integrated with other marketing tactics – they were not strategically aligned and didn’t reinforce each other.
- Inadequate metrics were being gathered and very little new functionality (e.g. RSS, data capture) had been incorporated.
The project initiated with a thorough gathering of assessment data, consisting of a detailed evaluation of the web sites utilizing Prescient’s unique methodology, combined with qualitative and quantitative user data as well as business requirement interviews with key stakeholders. In addition, Prescient conducted an environmental scan to evaluate similar sites from various jurisdictions. Key findings from the assessment included:
- A desire to see the sites emphasize the user: “User doesn’t care which level of government is offering information, just want it from their perspective.”
- Low engagement with and usage of the site
- Narrow user interest
- Users bring baggage about government to the site
- Perception that MEDT focuses on larger corporations
- Opportunity to be online aggregator
- No clear online leader creating a leadership opportunity
Based on this assessment data, there was then a consensus-based strategic planning process, in which the team had an opportunity to come together and develop an agreed upon strategic plan. The summary of the plan was to establish an on-line leadership position by:
1. Improving usability for users in all markets
2. Enabling users to interact with MEDT more effectively – more self-serve options
3. Presenting a greater amount of content, and a larger percentage of aggregated information
4. Encouraging shared responsibility of content
5. Boosting awareness of MEDT’s web presence
One of the key elements in ensuring the plan was executed—and the topic that attracted the most questions on the webinar—was the development of MEDT’s governance model for its site.
Web Governance is the structure of people, positions, authorities, roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules involved in managing an agency’s website(s). The governance structure defines who can make what decisions, who is accountable for which efforts, and how each of the players must work together to operate a website and web management process effectively.
As Maureen observed, government is elaborate and complex and there are already processes in place, which presents an opportunity to leverage existing approaches. “We took the informal maintenance model and formalized it within the governance model with clear lines of accountability for content and functionality.”
With governance completed, the team then turned to architecting and designing the sites. As the screen grabs below indicate, key principles were presenting information based on the needs of the users, specifically on an Information Architecture focused on their business decision making process as determined by their continuum of needs. In addition, the team added more self-service elements to the sites.
Based on the case study, Maureen suggested that the key take-aways are:
- A strategic approach based on sound research and clearly understood user preferences and expectations is imperative to overcoming internal biases – be prepared to challenge your own assumptions.
- Well organized, high value content allows you to confidently drive more traffic to your website and increase user engagement and exposure to your brand – even more important with social media.
- A governance structure does not guarantee all stakeholders remain committed to the website - it does provide a formal structure to engage them when necessary.