Building detail on Capitol Hill map it

Photo by John Bahr

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Strategic Plans and Reports

Web Communications Strategy

The City of Seattle is very committed to assuring that all citizens have access to public information and services electronically.

The City’s external website went online in February 1995. The website, which is operated by the Dept. of Information Technology (DOIT), links to 37 different departments and offices. It contains many dynamic features, including news releases, requests for proposals, surplus property, employment opportunities, daily fire and Medic One reports, weekly land use bulletins, online applications. Most of this content is created and maintained by City departments.

Most department websites are informative and well designed. Some need minor tweaking, while others require technical guidance and more work on content and design. The major challenge for most, however, is keeping the site up to date.

Putting the technological aspect aside for a moment, we must understand that the website—a dynamic opportunity—is yet another communication tool, just like a brochure, magazine, newspaper, the radio, or the television.

Goals

To make sure that all City department websites are customer-focused, easy to use, and frequently updated, allowing users to find what they need quickly and easily. To reduce unnecessary paperwork and conduct more City business over the web.

Desired Results

  • Improved content: Posted information should be useful and usable, emphasizing the City’s key messages, e.g., affordable housing, transportation, social services, delivery of basic services.
  • Improved compliance with design guidelines: Within the City’s web & design standards, departments are encouraged to have their own identity and creativity within the City family.
  • Improved site maintenance: Department sites are to be maintained and updated regularly.

Current Situation

Seattle was one of the first cities to have a web site, going on-line in February 1995. From the beginning, Seattle’s Public Access Network (PAN) was a portal for citizens, businesses and visitors to obtain government and community information. Over the years, PAN has won numerous awards, including being a finalist in the prestigious Global Bangemann Challenge and being named "Best of the Web" by Government Technology Magazine in 2000.

Last year, the City created a more friendly web "address" – cityofseattle.net, and completed a major redesign of the upper-levels of the site, making it easier for users to find information by subject, department or search. An important new feature is "City Highlights" – a place on the home page where hot department websites or new information can be highlighted; new information is posted daily.

Use of the City’s website has grown astronomically, reflecting both general Internet growth and an expansion of the amount of information on PAN. In 1996, PAN included about 1,300 documents, and web site use was estimated at about 7.5 percent of the population. Today our web site contains almost 38,000 documents and many interactive features. In 2000 alone, there were more than 4 million user sessions accessing almost 20 million page views.

Internet use has exploded and is exceptionally high in Seattle, where a recent survey identified that more than 82 percent of our population has Internet access. Excluding the elderly population, which has the lowest rate at 43 percent, almost 89 percent of the non-elderly population has Internet access. The figures for younger people are even more dramatic: 93 percent of those under 35 have Internet access – more than have a television in their home.

There are other important differences based on income, education and race, but the key point for purposes here is that the Internet must be regarded as a primary means of communication with our citizens.

Almost 30 percent of all Seattle residents have visited the City’s web site – which is an amazingly high number. The chart below shows the principal reasons people use the site.

Reasons for using web site

Most cityofseattle.net users (85 percent) found what they were looking for, but want the City to provide more services electronically.

What citizens want on city website

The bottom line is that our citizens have access to the Internet, use it, and want the City to provide them with more services and information on-line.

Challenges

"What are your biggest frustrations in managing your webs?" was a question posed at a recent Web Manager’s Forum/Web Content Management Working Group; here are common responses:

  • No commitment to web development, and the value or lack thereof organizations place on web and web support.
  • Poor communication between public information officers and information technology staff.
  • Getting content providers to focus on content versus design.
  • Budget concerns and staffing.
  • Adherences to standards on ADA access.
  • Getting blindsided by the unexpected.
  • Multiple authors, equals varying code quality; no central content management system equals lack of quality control.
  • Inconsistent verification and enforcement of standards.
  • Technical training for web managers (or lack thereof).
  • Difficult to keep up with updates.

Central Web Team

The Central Web Team in the Department of Information Technology supports the web technical infrastructure, Citywide applications, portal pages and navigation structure, and provides help and technical assistance to departments. The team can help identify information and on-line services for department sites, and can provide design templates that make it easy for departments to post information. They can teach web authors and in a pinch they can post information for them, but they do not have the resources to maintain department sites.

Department Web Teams

Effective use of the Internet requires a blend of public information, information technology, and business knowledge. A successful web team requires collaboration of staff in all three areas and leadership from departmental management.

Every department should have a Web Manager, and one or more full- and part-time web staff. Very small departments may share technical staff, but still need someone designated to be responsible for the web site. The Web Manager should report to the senior management team of the department. The web manager does not need to be technical, but should be someone who understands your business and "gets" the Internet.

The staffing level for each department depends on how much information it provides to the public and what services (i.e., paying bills or reserving facilities) it offers on-line. For basic website maintenance, these are some general guidelines for minimum staffing levels Most departments of any size will have a number of content developers:

  • Large department/large amount of information – one full time web manager, one full time technical staff, and one full time content staff
  • Medium department – part-time web manager, one full time technical staff, and one full time content staff
  • Small department – part-time web manager, shared technical staff, and shared content staff

Web applications require more resources, either staff or contractors, for development and maintenance. These staff are more technical web application developers.

Strategy to Achieve Desired Results

  • The department’s lead person/webteam who is responsible for website management should brief department heads and upper-level management with a "show & tell" presentation on how their website is viewed and used, walking them through it as a user.
  • Learn to recognize and include the web as an important communication tool. Whenever a public program or service is developed or reviewed, ask yourself how the web ties in. Re-prioritize this workload to a higher level in the department by shifting existing resources and providing training opportunities.
  • Identify existing webteams (which consist of a content manager, graphic designer and technical webmaster), who would be charged to provide support when needed regardless of which department they belong to.
  • Encourage partnerships between technology and communication staff if one doesn’t already exist within the department.
  • Develop a web template for departments with limited resources to allow them to easily and quickly re-design and further improve their websites within City standards.
  • Develop a quarterly expectation agreement between department heads and web managers that will commit both to regularly update their website.

Assignment

The attached department website assessment is a tool for you to use to get an understanding about the current status of your site, and to help you think about what you can do to improve its quality and expand your on-line services.

Complete the department website assessment. The assessment should help do several things:

  • Identify the steps that you can take to enhance your website.
  • Identify the business functions that are most important and possible to make accessible electronically (such as renewing business licenses).
  • Identify the information that is most important to make accessible electronically. 
  • Identify the areas where you need assistance to enhance your website.

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