What the Web Renewal Initiative (Canada.ca) is still missing

For those of you not familiar with what I am referring to, the Government of Canada (Goc) Web Renewal Initiative aims to streamline the GoC’s web presence through a single central website, Canada.ca .

What exactly does that mean?

Canada.ca features 15 user-centric themes based on the top information and tasks that visitors are looking for. The site is accessible and easy to use on any device. It offers a revamped and comprehensive media/news section with new features as well as an improved search function. Over a period of three years, approximately 1,500 individual websites will be brought together under Canada.ca to make it easier for Canadians to find information.” – Treasury Board Secretariat

Yes, you got that right, one portal website to serve as a starting point for all citizen needs that fall under federal jurisdiction.  This is by no means a new concept. Here it is fully implemented elsewhere across various jurisdictions:

Essentially the purpose here is to stop requiring Canadians to know what each department does, let alone the name of the department itself (especially in lieu of the constant name changes).

Instead, the aim is to shift the focus to the task they are trying to accomplish. In theory this is a great approach, however make no mistake, the work involved in the transition for the Government of Canada is tremendous and should not be underestimated.

The specific approach for Canada.ca has been to categorize all potential citizen needs into 15 themes (as in the screenshot image below). Each of these then has topics and sub-topics  whose aim is to point you directly at the content that you are looking for, which could be located on any one of those 1500 Government of Canada websites.

GoC themes

Is it still possible to go directly to a specific departmental website?

Yes, you can do so by going to the full A-Z list of Government of Canada websites.

Top issues I still see from my perspective (i.e not the technical side)

  1. Lack of an overarching digital marketing/communications strategy guiding the web renewal initiative.
  2. Lack of a brand framework (character, values, promise, positioning, mission, vision)  to guide all interactions with the new GoC web presence at any touch point, be it 1-800 O Canada, Canada.ca, or the social media presence of a theme.

The above two issues lead to inconsistency across departments in terms of their approach to web renewal, which in turn leads to an increase in citizen/user confusion.

What kind of inconsistencies am I talking about?

  • Many social media account pages are not named after the theme or topic (which would make the most sense) but instead have arbitrary names assigned to them (e.g. Eureka! – which is actually a very useful Science and Tech GoC Facebook Page that many more people would find via search if it were named based on the theme).
  • Only some themes and topics have social accounts, while others do not.
  • Only a select few of the social accounts that the themes and/or topics point to engage in a 2-way manner (note that from the user’s perspective there should be a consistent brand experience and expectation of service delivery)

What I think should be done

In addition to the creation of overarching strategic documents for web renewal that I previously mentioned, I recommend the following for an effective user experience:

  1. Ensure there is omni-channel service delivery integration for all web renewal related touch points. Here I’m referring to consistency between Service Canada, 1-800-O-Canada agents, in-person Service Canada locations, and all things Canada.ca.
  2. Create an internal communication strategy to ensure that people from all facets of Government of Canada service oriented programs and organizations understand and buy-into this approach.
  3. All social media accounts that the themes and topics on Canada.ca point to should be named consistently with the theme and/or topic they represent (e.g. the Environment and Natural Resources theme finally has a corresponding Facebook Page named the same way).
  4. While not all topics necessarily warrant a social presence, every theme should have one.
  5. A live “chat with an agent” feature should exist on Canada.ca. This should be a highly trained group of service delivery agents (e.g. the best ones from 1-800-O-Canada) that can assist users with finding the information they need. For any complex questions there should be a stand-alone protocol where the agents get in touch with theme lead representatives, and they in turn get in touch with subject-matter experts. There could potentially be a dedicated service delivery social presence for Canada.ca as well (e.g. The department ISED currently has @askISED).
  6. Create a publicly communicated positioning statement for this new Canada.ca service delivery entity such as “We’re here to help, let us know if you can’t find what you are looking for” (i.e. the options could be: chat with an agent or ask us on social). Of course, to make this work, terms of use and service delivery standards such as response time would have to be posted and adhered to. Internally, an interaction protocol would have to be developed along with an appropriate escalation protocol.

I realize there are many concurrent initiatives feeding into this, and a major technical challenge exists on the IT side. That being said, a unifying strategy guiding the IT, service delivery, marketing and internal communication of this initiative would still be extremely beneficial and prevent departments from going on tangents (as has been the case lately).

Cheers,

MK