Government websites are organization-centric, complicated and confusing, according to a survey of government web professionals in the United States, New Zealand and Canada.Between August and October 2007, over 230 government web professionals in the United States, New Zealand and Canada rated their websites based on a list of phrases. There were 22; 11 positive (customer centric, participative, etc.), and 11 negative (organization-centric, full of jargon, etc.)
Participants were asked to choose the top three words/phrases that best described their experience of government websites. They were told to give a score of 3 to the one that best described their experience, 2 to the next best, and then 1.
There were 93 participants from Canada. The top three phrases, with 38 percent of the vote, were: Organization-centric; Confusing; Too many websites. The bottom three, with 0 percent of the vote, were: Easy to search; Fast in, fast out; Participative.
There were 66 participants from New Zealand. The top three phrases, with 48 percent of the vote, were: Organization-centric; Complicated; Comprehensive. The bottom three, with 0 percent of the vote, were: Easy to use; Simple to navigate; Well managed.
There were 74 participants from the United States. The top three phrases, with 46% percent of the vote, were: Organization-centric; Confusing; Complicated. The bottom three, with 0 percent of the vote, were: Simple to navigate; Friendly; Participative.
In Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, government web professionals think that their websites are organization-centric, confusing, and complicated.
(UK government websites are "complex to understand and navigate and information useful to citizens is often hard to find amongst large amounts of policy material not relevant to them," according to a report published by the UK National Audit Office in July 2007.)
Governments are addicted to proving that they are doing their job properly. Many government websites are politics-centric. They talk about the 5-year plans they have just launched, rather than using the website to help implement the 5-year plan.
Too many government websites tell us about what their political masters did. With soft focus pictures we are told that the minister has just arrived down for breakfast. Oh, look, he sat down and is reaching for the toast. I wonder will he have marmalade or honey this morning. (I really care about his diet.)
Too many government websites tell us about the legislation they are enacting. We are victims of a tsunami of policies, procedures and publications in a language that is often meaningless.
Government web professionals know this and are struggling to convince their senior managers that the web is not the nirvana of vanity publishing. Slowly but surely, they are succeeding. Government websites have definitely improved over the last five years. You will still come across embarrassing government websites that start with the mission statement and a picture of the minister, but they are in decline.
Government web professionals know that being relentlessly citizen-centric is the way to success. What does the citizen want to do? Let them do it quickly and simply.
Full List of Terms
Easy to search
Easy to use
Fast in, fast out
Full of jargon
Open for feedback
Simple to navigate
Too many clicks
Too many websites
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.