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Because It’s Hard

May 7, 2014

Two years ago, federal agencies were set on a fast track to create a 21st century digital government. The Federal Digital Strategy served up a heaping set of deliverables on a tight timeline.

The photo is the door to President Kennedy’s Cold War bunker on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Creative Commons credit below.

Agencies opened data sets, built mobile apps and websites, published APIs, created and updated digital governance structures, and joined with other agencies in measuring digital services performance.

Last May, as the final deadlines were met, some asked, “What’s next?”

Hah! Agencies were just getting started. There are now more mobile apps, more APIs, more data that’s more available, more focus on citizen service through data analysis and user testing, more trials and, yes, even more errors, which means more learning!

But more isn’t enough. Agencies are working on better. And to keep pushing this rock of government forward, better means solving the tougher and emerging problems—like:

  • Rethinking “websites” as the primary digital content delivery channel. Agencies are finding that simply making a website responsive (so it can be viewed on any mobile device) might meet agency needs but does not equate to meeting user needs. This leads to…
  • Taking content that is traditionally unstructured and making it easier to reuse by adding standard structure and metadata. This means delivery can be device-agnostic—content can be served on any device—as well as device-specific—content is more granular and can be targeted to specific devices and use cases. It preps us for all those unknowable devices of the future.
  • Crossing silos. Census and Department of Labor are collaborating and bringing their datasets together to meet shared customer needs. This is hard because there are few rewards for cross-agency collaboration, at the same time there are barriers of budget, authorities and “ownership.” Our connected era is pushing agencies together to meet public expectations, even as policies are still catching up.
  • Improving the usability of APIs because making them available but unfathomable doesn’t help developers, government or citizens. Agencies are getting to the next level of maturing their API strategy by streamlining APIs and focusing on clarity and minimal documentation.
  • Reimagining the workplace and staff development through telework arrangements, micro-details and micro-tasking, and organizing work around deliverables.
  • Doing behind the scenes, unheralded work to update or even change the systems that drive government services. This one needs the most love—maybe because it’s the hardest and least sexy of all. Keep an eye on our colleagues at 18F who are working with forward leaning agencies to crack that nut.

And there’s more.

During this Public Service Recognition Week, let’s let President Kennedy remind us why we are doing this.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Finished? Nope. Just getting started.

What’s on your path? What do you need help with? Let us know in the comments.

This article is part of this month’s editorial theme on the Digital Government Strategy. Check out our recently published article on Structured Content Models, and check back for more articles related to this theme in May.

Photo Credit: Gwynne Kostin, August 7, 2009. “Rusted door to JFK’s nuclear bunker.” This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).