Modernizing Government and Public Sector Tech With WordPress
Highlights from the WordPress for Government Summit
As the digital era progresses, public sector agencies at the state and federal level are in a race against time to upgrade and streamline their communication systems of record, help staffers work smarter and faster, and, in the end, serve their constituents better with exemplary digital experiences.
Our recent panel Modernizing Government and Civic Tech with WordPress in Washington, D.C. shed light on the growing importance of the world’s most popular CMS in this modernization effort.
For Big Government, Big Questions were raised. For example, across agencies, what are some of the common and shared themes that public sector technologists are facing? How are public sector requirements like FedRAMP making accessible, open source technology like WordPress more widely available to content creators at agencies?
Our distinguished panel of technologists weighed in on these and other meaty concerns. They included:
- Jason Michael Perry, CTO, Mindgrub
- Amber Hinds, Founder & CEO, Equalize Digital
- JJ Toothman, Founder and CEO, Lone Rock Point
- Doug Axelrod, Senior Developer Lead, WDG
- John Eckman, CEO, 10up (WordPress VIP 2022 Partner of the Year)
“It was always very frustrating for me… 20 years in some kind of agency space working with government… that they couldn’t [make] a fundamental connection between democratized publishing… and shared infrastructure.”—John Eckman, CEO, 10up
The evolution: from closed to open source platforms
Historically, governmental entities leaned heavily on closed-source platforms. These systems, though seen as robust and reliable, came at a high cost—both monetary and in terms of adaptability.
J.J. Toothman, at the epicenter of NASA’s multi-year transition to the WordPress platform, emphasized the democratizing power of open source. He showcased how open source platforms, backed by vast global communities, are now bringing unparalleled innovation speed, flexibility, and scalability to once stodgy and lagging public agencies.
Both John Eckman and Jason Michael Perry echoed the sentiment that open source is more than just a technological choice. It’s a philosophy embodying collective innovation, reducing redundancy, and paving the way for collaborative digital advancement across different governmental departments.
“Whether it’s something that’s more accessible, something that’s got more continuity across different platforms, it really is about reaching constituents where they are and tailoring the web experience to be something more personal.”—Doug Axelrod, Senior Developer Lead, WDG
WordPress’s transformative journey in the public sector
Harnessing the versatility of WordPress for the public sector isn’t just about website creation. It’s about reshaping communication, fostering transparency, and enhancing user experiences.
The journey hasn’t always been smooth.
At one time, integrating a content management system platform into public sector operations meant navigating a labyrinth of regulations like FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program), established in 2011 to “provide a cost-effective, risk-based approach for the adoption and use of cloud services by the federal government.”
The upshot was few, if any user-friendly systems could pass muster. (Until an enterprise-grade, WordPress-based CMS like WordPress VIP came along.)
While essential for data protection and security, such requirements often added layers of complexity to an already challenging environment, forcing staffers to often rely on hard-to-use content creation systems to reach constituents.
Too, beyond the technical and regulatory challenges lay the task of fostering a thriving WordPress ecosystem from which to draw technical expertise and solutions for content creators and developers.
Government bodies didn’t just need a tool but one they knew how to wield effectively.
All that’s changing.
In fact, John Eckman cited FedRAMP authorization and compliance as a conduit to making technology platforms like WordPress VIP accessible to more and more public agency staffers, as it facilitates creating content targeted at constituents while delivering modern digital experiences.
“Now you can use the world’s easiest-to-use CMS—WordPress—at work…”
“The ability to pull from thousands and thousands of plugins from the greater [WordPress] community and use that to quickly evolve a website is incredibly important.”—Jason Michael Perry, CTO, Mindgrub
Accessibility and AI in the public sector
Web accessibility, whether in the private or public sector, isn’t merely about ticking boxes.
It’s about ensuring that every individual and constituent, regardless of their abilities, can access and comprehend digital content. Both Eckman and Amber Hinds reiterated the need for periodic reviews, constant updates, and a proactive approach to web accessibility.
“One of the major challenges in the public sector is providing accessible content. A lot of these websites have hundreds or thousands of content creators.” —Amber Hinds, Founder & CEO, Equalize Digital
Going deeper, Hinds noted the potential pitfalls of not ensuring consistent accessibility standards across open source platforms. Educating users to available technology, such as WordPress accessibility plugins that warn content creators about poor color contrast on pages and other challenges, for example, is as key in the public sector as it is elsewhere.
Meanwhile, it’s no surprise AI is rapidly shaping web interactions, even for government. But its integration needs a more “thoughtful approach,” according to panelists.
While AI can speed tasks like content generation, there’s a risk in relying blithely on it. Hinds cited instances where AI-generated content, for example, something as basic as image alt text, failed to convey the intended message, highlighting the importance of human intervention. Sound familiar?
“That ability to create a truly modern consumer engaging content experience, but with accessibility, scalability and performance… is really the win.”—John Eckman, CEO, 10up
Another key takeaway: Each governmental entity serves a unique demographic with distinct needs. It’s not just about integrating the latest technology—it’s about understanding the unique challenges and needs of public service.
As such, digital platforms need to be adaptable, transparent, and centered around user needs.
Web modernization for the public sector: what’s next
Looking forward, Perry’s insights were particularly compelling. Digital platforms, he argued, should pivot from being merely information hubs to understanding and predicting user needs.
In other words, it’s about facilitating interactions, streamlining processes, and enhancing user satisfaction. Again, sound familiar?
“[In the public sector] there is a thirst and desire to move to one sort of uber platform, one sort of solution architecture to group them all. And I think WordPress is well positioned to do that.”— JJ Toothman, Founder and CEO, Lone Rock Point
Eckman shared a vision where the boundaries between private and public sectors actually blur, at least technologically, believing that collaborative efforts, shared technologies, and cross-sector innovations will define the future of web modernization.
In envisioning the future for the public sector, the panelists unanimously agreed on a few other key tenets, among them:
- Digital platforms will be more integrated, with a strong focus on user experiences.
- WordPress, with its adaptability and vast community, will likely be at the forefront of this evolution—driving a user-centric, accessible, and secure digital transformation.
At the highest levels
The journey of modernizing public sector web platforms is layered, with challenges and opportunities.
As the digital capabilities expand to the halls of state and federal agencies, platforms like WordPress VIP—to date the only enterprise WordPress platform to attain FedRAMP authorization—will play a pivotal role in shaping the future, helping ensure inclusivity, adaptability, and efficiency for staffers and constituents alike.
For more insights on the WordPress for Government Summit, read our takeaways from the flash talk by Blaine Wasylkiw, Deputy CTO of the Department of Technology for the State of California, on how the state of California has embraced open source and WordPress for the public benefit.