Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Who owns government websites?

I have a very strong view on who owns a government agency's website - it's operated by the agency on behalf of the public.

The teams who look after the code, functionality, design and content are custodians and gatekeepers who ensure that the website;
  • works (is online 24/7)
  • meets all required standards
  • uses appropriate current tools and approaches to maximise its effectiveness
  • is attractive and interesting, and, most importantly,
  • meets the needs of the agency's audiences
However I've found in practice, and not just in government, that collective ownership is a hard concept for many to grasp.

Over the years I've heard many individuals make statements such as (actual quotes);
  • Public sector Senior IT manager: It's my code
  • Private sector Marketing VP: The website is a communications tool, I own it
I know that humans love to own stuff - it's the basis of our consumer society.

Ownership is also important for peoples' careers - often people judge their own success by what they 'own' (or control) professionally - staff, resources and businesses.

Irregardless of which area or executive manages or funds a website, who writes the content or cuts the code, if it doesn't meet the needs of the organisation's customers - does it have any value at all?

As professionals, don't we have an obligation to consider the big picture?


  1. If it's something a bit risky, a bit "new age" then no one wants to take ownership ... which makes it simple. No one will contest me for it :-)

  2. Hi Craig, I tried to click through to read your post about the ownership of governement data, it seems that the post was deleted?

    Anyway, I've been putting together a website over the past 5 months called "Melpedia". It's an open database of Melbourne business information, bars, cafes, restaurants etc. Open, in that it's a wiki and also open in the sense that all the information is available by XML feeds and eventually a SPARQL end point. Have a browse around here to get a sense of what I'm doing:[Bars]=on&simplified_format=on

    Essentially this sites purpose is to replace Sensis. Sensis is partly government owned but the information they've collected is far to expensive for individuals to use. This website is designed to fill that niche.

  3. I am still a bit of an old school idealist. I am currently introducing a CMS and trying to get the people who write the content to own it.

    One of the aims is move the perceived ownership of the web site from my team to the whole organisation. With specific teams owning certain sections and my team the "Mr/Ms Fixits" to help do new things or fix problems.

    This is working very well with some people. They love the idea of their corner of the web site and hopefully see the site belonging to the all the staff and the organisation.

    Unfortunately there is a bit of resistance from a few people, who do not want anything to the website. Which is a shame seeing it will showcase their expertise.

  4. Irregardless???

    *runs screaming in terror*

  5. Hi Samuel,

    The post should be visible at

    Sensis is now totally private owned, due to the government's sell-off of Telstra last year (ignoring FutureFund). It's tended to always run with a profit motive and I don't think they've executed well either.

    Good luck with your site!


    Good luck building that ownership - it's a good topic for a blog post as I've done a lot of work in the last year to build ownership of content in our intranet and we've had some big wins over the past few months.

    I'll try to have it up this weekend.


    Excuse my language choice - I do get flowery at times ;) - but it is a real word - Wikipedia says so!

  6. I rate it right up there with people (particularly sports commentators) who say literally when they actually mean figuratively! Eventually we won't actually have a word which means literally.

    I had a boss once who said irregardless all the time, it drove me nuts.

    But I still like your blog :)