The architecture of Gov’t 2.0: OpenGovWest unconference notes

On Saturday March 28, 2010, I hosted a session at day 2 of the OpenGovWest conference that asked the participants what the architecture of gov’t 2.0 looked like, from a high level. I was interested in what other gov’t organizations around Washington, Oregon, California, as well as BC, had done in terms of building their websites and enabling open government and e-government in general. I had some good discussion amongst the group members and have captured my raw notes here on the blog as well as at the OpenGovWest wiki.

The Architecture of Govt 2.0

View more presentations from Gordon Ross.

Many thanks to those who came out to share their experiences for the session.

The Architecture of Gov’t 2.0
Subtitled: This open gov’t stuff all sounds great. Now how do we build it?

Gordon Ross
Vice President/Partner
OpenRoad Communications / ThoughtFarmer
Vancouver, BC



Session Notes

- Hi, I’m Gord
- VP and Partner at OpenRoad in Vancouver
- 15 year old web development firm, specializing in public websites, intranets, and custom web applications
- offer strategy, user experience, development, and analytics/measurement services
- clients include BC Hydro, City of Vancouver, Province of BC, Electronic Arts, Mountain Equipment Coop, Pokemon, World Bank and others

Why I’m here
- currently consulting with the City of Vancouver on their web strategy
- first phase of a multi-phase process to redesign their public website
- consists of 60,000 pages, 130 apps, over 5.0M visits annually
- want to have a conversation with local, regional, state/prov, and fed gov’t members on how they’ve architected their web solutions
- open gov’t sounds great, but how do we build it?

- Centre for Collaborative Gov’t in 2002: e-gov’t, the municipal experience
- evolution of e-gov’t through 3 phases: static info, transactional services, online communities
- still holds true: most of conference aimed at the top level of the pyramid
- but can’t ignore the bottom; can’t build the top without a solid foundation

Building it
- so some big issues when it comes to building
- architecture
- content management systems
- build vs. buy, platforms vs. products
- centralized / decentralized / distributed models of tech + governance
- content strategy (content is king!)

The Discussion
- what has worked for people? who has had a pleasant CMS experience?
- how have people arranged these tools/tech/platforms in the past for best use?
- who wants to share a story?

(transcripts from here based on the handwritten notes I was taking while facilitating this discussion. Not perhaps the most coherent)

- become a bit of an industry standard, had some great experiences working with it

- can’t underestimate the importance of having people on the team with the right skillsets
- developers, content designers, IA, editors, web dev

BC Gov’t sites
- 400,000 gov’t pages
- 92,000 PDFs
- 300+ custom apps
- how do you manage that?

- once built a site for a Canadian city
- met with an internal line of business in the City
- asked “Do you guys build websites?” by line of business
- team’s answer: “yes”
- business response: “Then go build it.”
- moral of the story: no real interest from LoB in terms of building the site or how it works
- low interest

- internal social media, Ministry of Attorney General
- getting lawyers to write content, use a CMS
- customized SharePoint site
- usability really mattered in adoption

Legacy cms systems
- they assume the users are stupid
- really try to control the user experience, enforce forms as much as possible
- prescribe content through templates
- instead of relying on the smarts of the user

King County
- did a redesign
- hybrid: standup sites
- initiative of the day, campaign sites
- big website redesign
- 26 sites, trying to get a common look & feel
- positive experience started with good requirements gathering process
- org-focused website to a different model
- used SiteCore CMS (.NET based)
- flexible, able to build a lot on top of it
- able to standardize look and feel of the websites
- easy for people to add content
- moving HTML production to frontline staff seemed risky
- but great UI: one example was teaching visually disabled staff on how to create web pages
- were able to do it
- migration took 2 years to move site over
- simplified things, designers did struggle at times

- what hasn’t worked to well
- did do a lot of custom work, 350K budget
- painful budget process
- PM process was time consuming and challenging
- obvious ROI isn’t there: all this work so we can replicate sort of what we had already
- difficult to communicate the benefit to the accounting staff
- site core is complex, lots to learn

- requirements for extensive workflow?
- 100 to 200 microsites
- probably 4 or 5 that really use a modified workflow, more than just basics

- capital cost was one thing, getting ongoing operating was difficult

- initial requirements for global search & replace weren’t really met
- something you used to be able to do in page-based editing tools

- sometimes have a very vertical approval process in gov’t
- citizen engagement: approvals matter
- risk
- not just about look & feel, it’s about content
- how do you deliver a great content product in an environment that has strict rules?

- default of gov’t 1.0 web model: everything locked down unless otherwise made open / free to publish
- default of gov’t 2.0 web model: everything is open, unless locked down. closed is the exception, not the rule.

- description of Mashable website editorial room
- virtual editors, writers, content creators, web developers
- all in one big skype chat room
- content comes in, editors called upon at various times of the day, edit when needed
- developers tasked small jobs, put content up as req’d
- really flexible model, allows for remarkable real-time publishing process
- as news breaks throughout the day
- all done remotely by staff separated by hundreds, thousands of miles (USA, NZ, etc)

Build vs. Buy?
- some have customized
- example of customizing WordPress
- BC Gov’t feedback: WordPress hard to maintain multiple installs at the enterprise level
- sometimes point releases mean customizations break, almost have to re-build the standalone blogs from scratch
- forces IT to tear-down/rebuild on point release, very time consuming, costly

- another comment: my dream situation, build all on open source
- don’t have to pay license, but pay big costs in customization
- how to pay for it is tricky
- another comment: I found hard to get capital, but easier to divert operating funds
- in that way, open source made sense (more people than budget?)

- Leif
- dream architecture: Zanby
- communities of collaborative groups
- groups of groups, they aggregate content
- enables cross-silo / cross departmental collaboration

- New York State Senate
- yeah, what they did!
- Andrew’s presentation of the previous day, large open source stack, lots of point solutions, custom built, quite a bit of Drupal work

What’s your ideal system? Pretend it was magic!
- ideal system, not sure
- but resource allocation! possible to engage citizens without right amount of resources

- Drupal as the platform
- feeling that it’s really modular
- build it, customize it, do your own thing from the ground up

King County
- Andrew’s NY State Senate team is sharing some of their tools
- sharing code & resources

User standards point of view
- look at your community
- How the City sees the City is not how the city sees the City
- geo-located
- how it effects you, intensely local

Joomla, WordPress
- “I had positive experiences with both”
- we had to use Interwoven Teamsite: it was brutal
- hard to put content in
- so yeah, the ease of use should be really high

Question: who is the ease of use of a CMS for?
- user? citizen?
- content creator, editor?
- web developer? IT manager? system admin maintainer?
- can it be all things to all people?

Wrap up, thanks to everyone. If you see issues with the notes, feel free to edit. It’s a wiki after all!!!


Gord Ross / March 29, 2010