A transportation colleague said something recently that struck me as rather profound.
She simply asked, why is it that we can do our banking at 2 a.m., but we cannot get a permit from the state DOT at 4:30 p.m. because the office is closing?
There is a lot in that question. It suggests that we might need a basic re-thinking of government services and how we deliver those services. It suggests that “regular” office hours are probably not regular any more.
Transportation communicators — especially those front-line public involvement and public information officers — have known this for awhile now. It started as Internet use grew in the 1990s and it has blossomed further with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets. We see it clearly in Facebook comments, Twitter comments and questions posted on YouTube sites. People want information at their fingertips, any time of day.
So, just like the folks in the permit office, we in communications should take time to review our information channels to ensure they work as well for the insomniac as they work for the person who walks into our next public meeting.
The team at the Iowa Department of Transportation is already there. The department’s recently updated web site seems to be an excellent example of how to tear down what we think we know and to rebuild something very different from the perspective of the customers.
From the moment the landing page loads in the browser, the web site overhaul is obvious. Look beyond the beautiful design and consider the language. Three main options are given: “24/7,” “Travel,” and “Drivers/Vehicles.” To me, the approach is radical. The home page does not try to offer site visitors a peak at transportation from the agency’s point of view. By emphasizing its online services, traveler information and licensing information, the agency re-shapes itself into something undoubtedly more recognizable and understandable to the average Iowan.
Let’s be honest for a moment. Few communication teams really want to rebuild their web sites. In my own experience, deciding the right information for a site’s home page is a major organizational effort. It takes time and it likely takes additional financial investments. And, most web site redesigns simply work on visual overhauls because digging into the content and asking the tough questions is seriously hard work, which seems like a wasted effort. Like putting lipstick on a pig, as my dad used to say.
But Iowa DOT and others like them are proof that the new and improved product – one imagined from the user’s perspective — is worth the effort.