Building eGovernment Websites


Content Management

How Do I Populate My eGovernment Website With Contents?

Gathering contents for a site and turning them into meaningful web pages is perhaps one of the most time-consuming aspects of delivering an e-government website.

In order to reduce the impact of this operation on your organisation in terms of workload, and to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the contents you publish, it is best to establish clear policies in relation to contents, and a content management (or workflow ) strategy.

Content Policies

You will be familiar with the fact that traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines or TV/radio broadcasts, usually have an editor , or a committee that assumes editorial responsibility for the contents they publish and diffuse. And one of the most important factors both in the public and the private use of information is the reliability of its source.

The same applies to websites: the information published through a site must be owned by someone, who is ultimately responsible for its accuracy, and is liable for any problem that may arise from its publication and diffusion.

Before you start gathering contents for your e-government website, it is therefore important to establish who decides what will be published, and to establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability for the contents published through the site. In the case of e-government sites, as with any other government publication, ultimate responsibility usually lies with the government itself, or with a specific agency or office. But it is important to locate this responsibility with specific individuals or groups (e.g. an editor or editorial committee), so that the process is as manageable as possible, and any dispute that may arise can be handled in a transparent and objective manner.

This is especially important if the information you publish through your site has a specific legal value , and can affect the relations and transactions between your agency and the public (example: publishing the wrong date as a deadline for tax declarations may mislead citizens and make them incur penalties; if the mistake was made on the part of your publishing team, this should be acknowledged, and alternative solutions should be found so that the citizen is not penalised unfairly).

You should also make sure that the information you publish on your site is not of libellous nature and does not cause offence or prove to be discriminatory in any way.

It is also important that the editorial responsibility for a site is made as explicit as possible on the site itself, again for reasons of transparency. Users should know who to complain to in case of problems arising from such information. And in general, it is always best to clarify what the source of any information is. In this respect, you may find it helpful to create a page on the site specifically dedicated to this, which explains who owns the information, and how to make a complaint.

Such pages usually also specify what use can be legitimately made of the information that is published: for instance, you may want to specify that the contents of the website may not be reproduced without permission, i.e. that they are under the copyright of your agency or under a broader Government Copyright. This is not because its contents may have commercial value (not often the case with governmental information), but because you need to retain control of the diffusion of such information, to make sure this is accurate and up to date. After all, you cannot bear responsibility for contents published through channels that are out of your control.

At the same time, you should make it clear that any information you decide to incorporate into your website from another source (e.g. another agency, a member of the public, or a private company), is clearly labelled this way, and that you cannot be held responsible for its accuracy: this is usually done with the use of disclaimers , i.e. short explanatory texts that indicate what the source of the information is, and that it is not under your control. Disclaimers should also be used in the case of links from your site to other, external sites, which are outside your editorial control.

Once you have established where ultimate editorial responsibility lies, this can then be devolved throughout your organisation: this is because in the case of complex websites, it would be unrealistic for a single person or committee to produce and edit all the information that is published online. Instead, the task must be devolved to a number of individuals and offices, who are also arguably in the best position to contribute accurate and up to date contents. But also in this case, it is important that you establish clear lines of responsibility, so that the process is as manageable and transparent as possible.

Content Management

This refers to the way in which contents for a website are gathered from existing sources, or produced from scratch, and edited for use on the site.

It is likely that your organisation already produces a wealth of information, be it for internal use, or for public use, e.g. for reports, newsletters, leaflets, press releases and so on. Creating an entirely new strand of content generation and producing information for your website from scratch would therefore represent a duplication of efforts, and ultimately be inefficient. You would be much better off if you tapped into existing information flows, and adapted existing information for use on your site. This would also ensure more consistency in the contents you publish through the different media channels you use.

But generating contents for a website from existing information is not an entirely hassle-free, zero-cost operation: writing for the web is different from writing for other types of publication, so contents need to be adapted for the medium (see: How Can I Make Sure That My Design Works? ). And tapping into existing information flows means integrating an extra operation into existing professional practices. This will need to be done in a sustainable and user-friendly way (the users here being public agency staff).

In this case, the most important thing to establish, and perhaps the most difficult to obtain, is the commitment of internal staff to producing information that is fit for web publishing, on top of the tasks they already carry out as part of their job. For this reason, it is important that the task of generating and managing contents for the web is built into the job description of the people who are supposed to do it, and that they are a) provided with the tools and the training necessary to carry out the task, and b) rewarded accordingly.

It is also for this reason that it is important to establish clear responsibilities as far as editing specific pages or sections of a website is concerned, and why you may therefore find it helpful to put in place specific policies (see section above on Content Policies ) in this respect. The content of each page on your website must be clearly owned by someone, who will be responsible for its timeliness and its accuracy, and will be officially tasked with its production and maintenance.

If your website is very complex, and the public agency produces a vast amount of information destined to be published through a variety of platforms, you may find it helpful to investigate the possibility of adopting software-based content management systems (CMS), which will help you by automating many of the tasks required to publish information, and provide ways to rationalise workflows in this area.

However you choose to address this issue, it is likely that you will find the initial gathering of contents in order to deliver the first version of your new website the most difficult part of your project, as you will need to rely on the contribution of a potentially large number of people within your organisation, and on the ability of your designer(s) to liaise efficiently with them. Make sure you build in some extra time for problems and hiccups at this stage, as it is easy to underestimate how much time and resources need to be invested to populate your web pages with effective, usable content.

That said, you should also make sure that the methods you intend to use in order to manage workflows in this area are also sustainable in the long term, as you will need to have contents regularly reviewed and up to date also in the future (see: How Do I Maintain My eGovernment Website? ).

Page Author: Andrea Bardelli Danieli. Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
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