Better Web pages in sight

2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner Sheila Campbell leads agency Webmasters toward better online services

2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner

USA.gov web best practices



PERSONAL MOTTO
Proceed until apprehended.

WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED
Knowing that what we're doing can help make a real difference in people's daily lives ' like making it easier to find important health information, apply for student financial aid or comment on a regulation affecting their community.

HOW YOU SPUR INNOVATION
' Encourage big thinking around the water cooler.
' Support pilots of new ideas.
' Routinely share what other agencies and nongovernment organizations are doing.
' Have regular lunches with other agencies' Web managers to share ideas.

Sheila Campbell, co-chairwoman of the Web Managers Advisory Council and team leader of USA.gov and Web Best Practices at the General Services Administration, is a 2008 GCN Technology Leadership Award winner.

Emily Barnes

One night, Sheila Campbell was meeting at the Library of Congress with about 20 members of the Web Managers Advisory Council. Campbell, co-chairwoman of the council and team leader of USA.gov and Web Best Practices at the General Services Administration, got into a deep discussion with council member Kate Donohue, a Web content specialist at the Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.


MORE ON THIS TOPIC: 2008 Technology Leadership Awards home page



Campbell and Donohue were so immersed in their conversation that they didn't notice when everybody else turned off the lights and left. The two were locked in, and Campbell had to call another council member on her cell phone to get them out.

That's typical of the passion Campbell has for her work, said her boss, Beverly Godwin, director of USA.gov and Web Best Practices.

Campbell has been a catalyst in transforming a small, anonymous group of government Web managers into the largest community of practice of its kind, the Web Content Managers Forum. In October 2001, when Campbell joined GSA, the forum consisted of a dozen Web managers. Now it has 1,300 members representing every federal agency and a growing number of state and local agencies.

'Sheila has really helped nurture and grow the community of federal Web managers,' Godwin said. They used to be isolated, trying to learn on their own. But with the development of the council and forum, Godwin said, Web managers realized that 'there's someone like me in another agency trying to do the same things. It was almost like a support group.'

'We can call on each other for anything,' Campbell said. 'The next time there's a Hurricane Katrina, I have the cell numbers for all the Web managers at each Cabinet agency, and I know I can call them at a moment's notice.'

Campbell also is in charge of Web Manager University, which provided low-cost, practical training last year to about 3,500 students from more than 75 federal agencies and 25 state and local agencies.

The program began at the National Cancer Institute as Usability University. It later moved to GSA and now has a full-time usability specialist. 'A lot of what we're trying to do is to get agencies to conduct user testing, do user-centered design and focus on their core task,' Campbell said.

The classes were based in Washington at first, but Web managers in other parts of the country also asked to participate. Campbell expanded the university's Web seminars so Web managers nationwide could join in.

'Sheila is leading a group that has no obligation to follow her,' said Candi Harrison, a retired Housing and Urban Development Department Web manager. 'There's no mandate. Web managers are out there floating. The fact that Sheila and [Advisory Council co-chairwoman] Rachel [Flagg] have managed to herd these cats toward working together is amazing.'

Still, Campbell and other government Web managers have their work cut out for them. The new president will inherit 24,000 federal Web sites, 'and that's our best guess,' Campbell said. Nobody knows the exact number.

Reducing clutter and focusing on the user are priorities for Campbell and USA.gov. Wikis, blogs and other new Web tools could be a big help in putting a human face on government. 'If blogs are so popular because they're written in plain language, maybe we should look at writing the regular Web site in plain language,' she said.

Campbell has been the driving force behind the federal Webmasters' community, said Rand Ruggieri, program manager of Exports.gov at the Commerce Department. 'In the three years I've worked with her now, I've never seen her depressed. She has this boundless enthusiasm. ' I think it rubs off on people.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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