The best government intranet designs

by Toby Ward — Truth of the matter, based on my years of experience working with several dozen organizations, is that usability and design take a back seat to content and planning.
Nielsen Norman Group has another intranet report ranking what it says are the “10 best government intranet designs.”
Of course, the intranets featured are not the top 10 global government intranets. In fact, not even close.
The “best intranet designs” is in fact a voluntary contest that encourages government agencies to volunteer screenshots and some background information on their intranet. NNGroup then receives some several dozen submissions and then chooses which intranets become the “Ten Best Government and Public Sector Intranet Designs.”However, the report provides some decent insight. If your organization is paying, then it’s worth the single report cost of US$179 (Purchase Ten Best Government and Public Sector Intranet Designs).
So while this report is worthwhile, it’s important to stress that this is about intranet “design” (i.e. mostly look-and-feel and layout). The authors and judges do not have access to use or view the intranet, they’ve had no experience with the intranet and no way to measure the intranet’s value versus corporate goals and objectives they can only judge based on screenshots and voluntary information. And only from a very small segment of volunteer organizations. And they have to take the submitters application at face value which likely only paints a partial, ‘rosy’ picture.
The winners include:
  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (U.S.)
  • Department for Transport (U.K.)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network (U.S.)
  • Department for Victorian Communities (Australia)
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (U.S.)
  • Government Offices of Sweden
  • London Underground
  • National Research Council of Canada, Industrial Research Assistance Program
  • Senate Republican Conference (U.S.)
  • Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (Canada)
There’s no doubt that these winners have done a solid job with their respective intranets. And the report does go beyond simple look-and-feel and covers “some of the key areas for which best practices are presented in the report...:
  • Workflow support
  • Ensuring fresh content
  • Driving unified design through the organization
  • Consistent navigation
  • Integration of intranet with real-time mobile notification
  • Development process for intranet redesigns
  • Coordinating agency-level and government-level design
  • Ensuring accessibility for employees with disabilities, beyond simple compliance with Section 508 (U.S.) or the Disability Discrimination Act (U.K.)
Clearly however what is hinted at but not explicitly stated is that a successful intranet requires more than just a good design. My problem with contests such as this one is that once again, the emphasis is on design when in fact ‘design’ is the least important ingredient of a successful intranet.
Truth of the matter, based on my years of experience working with several dozen organizations, is that usability and design take a back seat to content and planning. In fact, Prescient Digital Media has a methodology for evaluating and scoring the value of an intranet and usability and design each account for about 13% of an intranet’s value while content and planning & resources (including governance, process, people, and funding) account for 50% of a site’s value.
Nonetheless, an intranet’s design should support and enhance the organization’s brand and culture while ensuring that employees are able to get the information they want, when they want, as quick as possible.
So while contest reports that have great case studies and feature some nice screenshots are cool and worthwhile your intranet energies are better served by focusing on content and process.
Other related items:
Intranet Design Wars (August 18th Blog)
A Love For Intranet Screenshots (June 29th Blog)
Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.