Government Intranets: 10 Winners for Usability

Intranets are becoming increasingly important to how many organizations (including government agencies) function. However, the true benefits of intranets become reality only when people actually USE them – regularly, and well.

We all want our governments to function efficiently, since we’re paying for them. Thus, intranet usability is a key way to increase the productivity of a government workforce. In light of this, the Nielsen Norman Group sponsored a usability competition for government intranet sites, open to governments all over the world. Winners were announced June 21:

  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (US)
  • Department for Transport (UK)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network (US)
  • Department for Victorian Communities (Australia)
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (US)
  • Government Offices of Sweden (Regeringskansliet)
  • London Underground
  • National Research Council of Canada, Industrial Research Assistance Program
  • Senate Republican Conference (US)
  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (Canada)

What makes an effective government intranet? One of the key factors described by NNG is content – specifically, encouraging and managing content contributors. Here’s what NNG had to say about that…

From the NNG announcement of the contest results:

“Many of the winning intranets had explicit processes in place to manage content contributors, thus overcoming the bane of many an intranet: content that’s stale, obsolete, or never published on the intranet in the first place.
Strategies include:

  • Identify a lead publisher (and supporting publishers) in each organization area who’s responsible for content in his or her area (London Underground).

  • Train the lead publishers to manage the intranet and to understand principles for online content usability and readability (London Underground).

  • For intranet postings, use a simple and easy form to encourage employees to submit information (the National Research Council of Canada, Industrial Research Assistance Program).

  • Make it easy for employees to update the staff directory with information about their areas of expertise and special interests so others can find experts quickly (U.S. Senate Republican Conference).

  • Set expiration dates for all content and use software to automatically track those dates (Department for Victorian Communities, Australia).

  • Centralize content editing to ensure its quality (U.K. Department for Transport).

  • Review pages before posting to guarantee compliance with intranet standards (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network).

  • Use templates and a content management system (CMS) to provide a consistent user interface for publishing (most winners).

  • Rely on automated content feeds [webfeeds] from outside sources, such as filtered newswires (Government Offices of Sweden) or medical databases (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network).”

…Sounds like good advice. In fact, I wish government agencies would also apply many of these practices to their Web sites. Too often, government Web site content is far too chaotic, sprawling, or unreadable for the average Web user to bear.

Congratulations to the winners. Thanks to NNG for sponsoring the contest. Thanks to eLearningPost for the link.