Make e-gov easy, expert says

State Department's Consular Affairs Web site

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Government Web sites need to be more user-centric, said Leo Mullen, chief executive officer of NavigationArts.

People write their own pages on MySpace and share YouTube videos with ease. "They expect the same kind of intuitive interactions with government," he said yesterday at the Gilbane conference on content technologies in Washington.

The concept of e-government is "brilliant in its simplicity but devilishly difficult to administer," Mullen said.

The way individual agencies have structured their Web sites have "left the user in the lurch," he added.

Some of the government’s challenge is due to its varied organizational background, Mullen said. And some is due to its breathtaking variety.

There are three basic drivers of user-centricity: roles, goals and needs, Mullen said.

As an example, Mullen talked about how NavigationArts helped make the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Web site more user-centric.

The site’s mission is to help manage how U.S. citizens travel and work in other countries. The bureau handles visas and passports and other documents and processes for citizens traveling abroad.

But the Web site was basically a link farm of hundreds of disconnected sites. Nobody knew how many documents or pages were on it. "It was a state secret," Mullen said.

The site had no functionality that correlated with the jobs people did everyday -- "nothing that correlated to users' roles and goals," he said.

Users had to bookmark pages that had the information they needed because they couldn’t easily retrace their steps and find the information again.

"People trying to move through this federated group of sites were completely slowed down," Mullen said.

He mapped the site's content according to the roles and goals of the users he interviewed. For some areas, he followed a dashboard model and applied a set of filters that aggregated areas by topic and country. He also conducted usability tests.

Mullen and NavigationArts revamped the site in less than a year.

Walsh writes for Government Computer News, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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