Anticipating the rebirth of the Canadian federal government web presence
A massive migration of content currently sitting on various government department websites is set to culminate in one home for most Canadian federal government information and services: Canada.ca. This new site will let anyone look for content without having to visit multiple websites.
Want to apply for a visa? The Immigration and Citizenship section tells you how. Need to find a research report published by Health Canada? The departmental page for Health Canada points you to its publications. Canada.ca uses a consistent approach for organizing and displaying key services and information, thus reducing the amount of time people need to orient themselves and complete their tasks.
With this in mind, what is the future role for people who currently create, approve, and publish their content on a departmental website?
Logically, once content is published on Canada.ca, there is no need to maintain duplicate content on the original department or agency website. These websites eventually will be taken down, and in their place, a new content ownership paradigm emerges. Instead of managing a web site, or web presence, the creators of government online services and information will be trustees of their web content throughout its lifecycle. This will extend some of their existing responsibilities around content creation and publishing while introducing some new ones needed to support the single-site approach:
- Establishing a Government of Canada-wide point of view – One of the biggest improvements for people needing Canadian government services via the Web will be the ability to explore a topic shared by multiple departments. On Canada.ca, content creators across government will need to work together when they share the same topics. The imperative to collaborate effectively will be critical as the connections on a content level are identified.
- An emphasis on task completion – People don’t visit government websites as a hobby. They do it because they have to interact with their government to get services, comply with regulations or acquire data and research developed by the government. Content creators must therefore make frequently performed tasks as easy as possible to complete. Evaluating content to see if a task can be performed and completed easily must be a routine part of the content development process.
- A consistent approach to content organization – Departments and agencies have worked diligently to organize their content according to evolving Government of Canada web standards. On Canada.ca, the organizing principles have evolved further based on based on user research and best practices. Department content creators need to familiarize themselves with these content principles by visiting the Web Renewal Toolkit section of the government’s wiki (GCPedia).
- Better search results – There is a concerted effort to provide a better way of helping people search for and find the information they want on Canada.ca. Among other things, this will require all content creators to write unique plain language page titles that indicate what’s to be found on their pages. Page titles appearing in search results are the guideposts by which people determine which page(s) match their intended task.
- Plain language writing – Content creators will be responsible for writing at an appropriate reading level for their intended audience. This does not mean dumbing down content; rather, writing in plain language helps more people understand and use that content.
These new responsibilities mean that departments and agencies will need to redefine their operational processes for how they will manage their content in this new environment. This in turn will surface a need for strong web governance which can help guide and support the evolving role of content creators.
Denise Eisner is a senior consultant at Systemscope. She is the lead content strategist for the Web Renewal Initiative.