Author: Yogi Schulz

The Federal and Provincial governments have built extensive portals in recent years. The ability to conduct public business is widespread.

However, these portals still confuse many citizens. There’s plenty of room to improve the effectiveness of these portals. Here are some improvement ideas based on seeing the good, the bad and the ugly. These ideas are equally applicable to private sector portals.

Doing Business on the Web

There’s room to complete transactions more effectively through government portals.

For example, the Newfoundland and Labrador web site is ugly when it comes to Vehicle Transfers. From the web page, it’s not clear if it’s possible to complete the vehicle transfer on the portal or if a visit to a government office is required.

State capability clearly. If the site is about instructions and directions then provide instructions, a map of locations where business can be conducted and opening hours. If the site supports conduct of business then say so on the first page.

By contrast, the Nova Scotia web page that explains Motor Vehicle license renewals is good because, right upfront, it explains all the steps that I’m about to embark on and all the documents I will need to complete the transaction through the portal.

This clarity avoids consumer frustration and reduces the frequency of abandoned transactions because the person doesn’t have a critical document in front of them.

Portals can encourage Dialogue

Most governments are interested to enhance the dialogue with their constituencies. Portals can encourage that dialogue. I was pleased to see that every government portal that I visited recently included a feedback form.

I’ve had two experiences with filling out such forms. One good; one bad. In both cases I received an automated response quite quickly. I took that as an encouraging sign.

In the bad case involving the Passport Office, I’m still waiting for any sign of life months later. Encouraging dialogue requires staff and discipline to respond to the traffic. If you’re going to offer dialogue, you must be able to make the corresponding commitment for resources to respond to the inquiries.

If you don’t answer, you leave a worse impression than if you don’t even offer the possibilities of a dialogue.

In the good case where I contacted the CRTC, I then received an excellent response within 48 hours.

Most of the government portals I visited offer huge numbers of phone numbers for various requests and further information. Private enterprise can learn a lot from government when it comes to encouraging communication and dialogue.

Organizations can find inspiration to build dialogue and a sense of community from the example of New Jersey’s is a good portal that connects individuals, civic organizations, government and corporations so that they can communicate and collaborate in building a better New Jersey.


Despite the existence of many web site design and usability resources, many government portals could improve the ability to conduct business and sustain a dialogue.

If your portal contains pages like the ones that I rated bad or ugly, remember that the price to shape up is not high. If you’re interested in the list of links associated with the observations or list of portal resources, please send me an e-mail.