E-gov projects hire some help to get the word out

GovBenefits.gov doesn’t have a name that resonates with the public, like IRS Free-File or Disaster Management. But it is one of the most advanced Quicksilver projects and its final objective—to make sure citizens use the site—requires some name recognition.

Jeff Koch, acting project manager, has sent brochures to libraries and social workers across the country, developed a public service an-nouncement for television and presented at numerous conferences. But he said GovBenefits is still far from its goal of making sure every social worker knows what the site offers.

So Koch and the project team worked with the Office of Management and Budget and a professional public relations firm to map out a strategy.

“We need to register our sites with Spanish-language search engines, get links on military.com and other highly visible sites, and we need a library of online promotional materials to make it easy for librarians or caseworkers to print out our brochures,” Koch said. “In government, we are not attuned to selling a product. If we want someone to use something, we pass a law or mandate it.”

GovBenefits is one of 11 of the original 25 e-government projects to undergo a review by Edelman Public Relations of New York to determine the best ways to reach the project’s audiences.

OMB hired Edelman in August for a four-month contract worth $261,000. OMB extended the contract until June 30 to finish the work.

Marketing strategy

“We talk through the marketing activities and hold the managers accountable to drive usage,” said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, at a recent luncheon sponsored by IBM Corp. in Washington.

“We determine what goals they have and how they define success,”
So far, OMB has met with seven project managers and has scheduled three other meetings over the next month.

“We are seeing some emerging trends in the types of information we should be collecting and measuring and now we are going back to see if we can measure them before we publish the details of the plans,” said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT.

“Primarily we are focused on whether the project managers know the universe of citizens they are trying to serve or the number of comments a rule could receive,” she said.

Evans said the work with Edelman and the project managers is the final phase of an initiative’s lifecycle.

“Part of the discussion is what success looks like,” Evans said. “Based on these meetings the projects have had to re-look at their goals and define what success means.”

Rebecca Spitzgo, program manager for the Grants.gov initiative, said the project team did a gap analysis, and OMB and Edelman suggested ways to do more outreach.

“The gap analysis helps us prioritize who we need to reach,” Spitzgo said. “There were a few things raised that could be low cost and high distribution, but we still are considering them right now.”

Grants.gov already had staged a webcast for 1,800 federal, state and local government representatives and others in the grant community. The project team mailed 2,000 brochures to the grants community to tout the find-and-apply functions of the site. All of this was part of their spread-the-word campaign, Spitzgo said.

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