So the Department of Heritage (www.pch.gc.ca) will be changing their website, and they’ve telegraphed ahead with the following notice to site visitors:
Before the end of March 2010, you will notice several improvements to the Canadian Heritage Web site, and many more changes will be coming in the next few months.
The Web site is being redesigned to make it easier for you to find the information you are looking for. The main changes will include:
- a new Funding section, which will provide direct access to the funding programs that are right for you;
- new Topic categories, which will be grouped and labelled in a more intuitive way to lead you quickly to the information you are seeking; and
- new and reorganized information under “The Department” section, which will give you a better understanding of Canadian Heritage’s responsibilities and services.
I think this is great approach, both in terms of flagging in advance that the site will be changing and also in terms of what is being changed on the site.
Telling your visitors that things will be changing not only helps to reduce the impacts of the inevitable disruption, but also generates positive interest in the change. Hooray for being proactive — Far better than waiting until the change has already been implemented and reacting to confused users. It’s sure some people will still end up disrupted, but not everyone will, and many (like me) will be looking forward to the update.
More important is the direction that they appear to be taking with the changes they are making. Right now, http://www.pch.gc.ca employs a combination of topic-based and organizationally based navigation. If I’m reading the 2nd bullet above correctly, it sounds like the site will be improving its topic-based navigation, to perhaps allow for faceted classification. And while they won’t be doing away with an organizationally based portion of their site (long live government websites and their “The Department” sections!), here’s to hoping it’s going to be presented in a way that makes sense to outsiders.
I’ve long been of the opinion that grouping content based on topics or subjects is the way to go. And if multiple labels are attached, so much the better. The idea of making particular pages or groups of pages findable via more than one keyword or path is powerful — we can’t force our users to understand our taxonomies (think about trying to understand org charts from an institution other than your own!), and sometimes things just fall in more than one mental bucket at the same time.
And finally, the inclusion of a “funding” topic by Heritage Canada is brilliant — to me, it’s one of the most obvious things that citizens are looking for when interacting with the federal government. (And yes, adding something along these lines is on the to-do list at my org too.)