CityOfBoston.gov has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top city government websites in the state of Massachusetts. Below you'l find an interview with Sara Walsh and Katie Painter, Web Content Managers for the City of Boston.
- CityOfBoston.gov is a top-notch web portal; what has been your role in its development?
CityofBoston.gov is managed by the Web Team in the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT). We work with city agencies to utilize technology for their own business process and to serve constituents.
- Can you summarize the history of Boston's web portal?
Our first website, launched in 1996 contained just 180 pages of static content. In 1998, we introduced online payments. In 2000, we added contact forms and address specific information about city services. In 2004, we developed additional forms, permits & applications and incorporated video.
A complete redesign in 2006 combined a user-centric design methodology with an innovative site design. The result is the website you see today – intuitive organization, rich content and improved navigation. The "newsy" feel, highlighting the latest announcements, initiatives and programs, encourages users to visit the site frequently. In Spring 2010, we launched a mobile version of our website, which is optimized for 5,000+ mobile devices.
Over the years, we have seen an enormous increase in the site’s size and usage. Today, CityofBoston.gov has 6,000+ pages with 2.4 million page views a month and processes $96 million a year in payments.
- What are the overarching objectives of Boston's current e-government initiatives?
Our goal is to connect constituents to local government by enabling anywhere, anytime service. And as Mayor Menino has stated: “We’re using the latest technology to make government even more accessible and more responsive.” We look what constituents are trying to accomplish when they call or visit City Hall and figure out ways to make that easier. Three key objectives guide our initiatives:
- Use new technologies to continuously innovate,
- improve the delivery of services, and
- save time and money for both City agencies and constituents.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by CityOfBoston.gov, both on- and off-line?
We employ a number of tools to draw the users to CityofBoston.gov for more information:
- E-newsletters: We offer subscriptions on 25 different topics ranging from green initiatives to cultural events.
- Alerts & Reminders: Users can sign up for email or text notifications of snow emergencies, public safety concerns, health advisories, school cancellations and parking restrictions.
- Social Media: We maintain 24 Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.
- Bookmarking and Sharing Toolbar: With just one click, users can email a page, save it as a favorite, post to Facebook or Twitter and connect with 250+ other services.
- Cable TV: Our public access station advertises website services and information.
- Print Materials: Brochures, flyers and advertisements for initiatives and events list the website for more information.
- Mobile Site: M.Cityofboston.gov provides mobile phone users with quick and easy access to the information they want most.
- Referrals: The Mayor’s Office phone line is staffed 24/7 and many callers are directed to the website for additional information.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Boston's e-government services?
We engage constituents by conducting meaningful user research and testing. Through this process, we identified key user constituent groups – residents, businesses, visitors, students, and government. The needs and usage of each of these groups is at the core of all of our development.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
Property Data: The Assessing Online application brings direct access for taxpayers, homeowners, real estate and legal professionals as well as business owners to property parcel data including assessed value, location, ownership and tax information for each piece of property in the city.
Jobs: The Career Center expedites the hiring process and makes it easier and convenient for applicants. Applicants can register for alerts to find out about the latest job postings and submit their applications and resumes on-line.
Parking Services: A full suite of parking services helps Boston drivers avoid ticketing and towing, find parking, obtain permits and resolve violations. Drivers can sign up for alerts, lookup parking schedules, locate towed vehicle and make payments.
Maps: Our interactive mapping application provides functionality to query, view, print and download maps. Users can access property information, learn about community resources, find adjacent properties, and learn about City Capital funded projects.
Calendar: The City Calendar is a tool for residents and visitors to find out about the many events happening throughout Boston every day.
- What led you to designate an entire portion of Boston's web portal to students? What are you hoping to accomplish by targeting this group?
With a student population of 150,000, Boston is considered “America’s college town”. By giving students a presence in our global site navigation, we’re embracing the student population as a vital, integral part of our community.
The student section highlights the services that are important to our student population: housing, safety, voting, transportation and health. These services were identified in focus groups of college students and are advertised to new students each fall at Boston’s CollegeFest.
- How does your Citizens Connect feature make government resources more readily accessible to citizens?
Citizens Connect is the City of Boston’s strategy for Citizen-to-City transactions. Our implementation has increased service quality, accuracy, timeliness, and accountability through four key objectives:
- Provide a Clear Listing of Services: Our online services menu integrates 300+ online transactions. The services are organized by category to make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for, without needing to know which department is responsible.
- Enable Convenient Transactions: The Citizens Connect iPhone app enables residents and visitors to report directly from their iPhones to city departments for resolution. Key features include the ability to attach a photo, capture system-generated GIS coordinates, and track requests.
- Provide Faster Service: New online forms are designed to collect all of the necessary information related to a request, which reduces the need for follow-up questions. Once received, the requests are immediately assigned to the responsible department so that they can address the issue faster.
- Effectively Track Requests: Residents can check the status of their own requests and view other issues that have been reported in their communities.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Boston's web portal?
As more people use mobile devices to access news and information, increasing the number of mobile applications is essential to providing services to our citizens.
We will also continue to explore new forms of interactive information sharing and social media.
In an effort to take advantage of local developer talent, we are now providing outside developers the data and services they need to engineer applications by making municipal data sets available through Data Boston.
- What else that you would like to tell us about CityOfBoston.gov?
For more information about our recent and upcoming website enhancements, please visit: www.cityofboston.gov/whatsnew