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eGovernment: Usability? Functionability?

Last week I discussed the difficulties encompassing the online activities of municipalities. These difficulties make online activity for municipalities challenging. In my opinion these challenges are the cause of the recente stream of newsitems, like we have seen in the Netherlands, concerning the bad encounters that visitors at governmental websites experienced during the past few years.

I experienced that many municipalities cope with a ‘trade-off’ between usability and functionability. While wanting to provide more an more to the visitor, they forget to keep their website(s) usable. And this is where the challenge lies.

Like I discussed last week municipalities have as a goal “information provisioning”, “being a webshop”, but also have the expectation of involving the cusomter in their online activities. (as stated in Wikipedia : “Whilst e-Government has traditionally been understood as being centered around the operations of government, e-Governance is understood to extend the scope by including citizen engagement and participation in governance”). While involving the visitor we need al kinds of Web 2.0 applications.

At the same time municipalities are using social media like Twitter etc. And of course we also want to integrate this in the website. When we take a look for example at the provision of interactive media we see the following graph:

Web2.0 for e-government

This image illustrates that there is a lot of provision of interactive services and little use by citizens. Last week I stated the growing demands by the central government, the webshop function of the governments. This leads to an overflow of functions and information. It is of course apealing to integrate all these different functions. But at some times it seems like this is done too haphazardly. I believe that municipalities need to take a step back.

What is the meaning of all these functionalities without people using them? Or better, without people finding them. What was noted in other research is that people seem to have trouble navigating through the website of the municipality. And why is this such a problem? Because there is are many functionalities and a lot of information to be supplied by these organizations. This means that they need to take a step back and reconstruct or reconsider their websitestructures and navigation.

To summarize, I believe we’ve gone too far, too fast with regards to website functionality and lost track of one of the most important concepts realizing effective functionality: Usability. Websites do need to adress their usability before adressing functionality. With this post I do not mean that the use of web 2.0 and all kind of other functionalities is wrong. We do however need to focus at helping the customer as a goal. And if this means adding new functionalities, we add new functionalities, but we do however need to make sure that they indeed find their way to these functionalities and back. In order to achieve that we need to adhere to usability standards.

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