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Strategic Plans and Reports

PANPLAN: A Strategic Vision for the City of Seattle Public Access Network

by Rona Zevin, PAN Director, July, 1996

Additional Application Considerations

PAN should include appropriate information from and the ability to carry out transactions with all City departments, as well as boards and commissions.

The City provides many of its services through other organizations, such as non-profit social service agencies. Other programs and projects involve collaborations among several groups including the City. PAN includes information from these organizations as well as information provided directly by City departments. PAN also includes some general community information (i.e. calendar of events) that are very popular with citizens, but don't represent traditional City government services.

PAN also provides a great deal of information by linking to other sites about Seattle programs and services. Many non-profit community and arts organizations have developed their own web sites, and it provides a valuable service to these organizations to have a link on PAN. PAN also provides links to other governments such as King County and the State of Washington.

The tourism area presents more difficult issues. Because of the World Wide nature of the Web, one of the predominant uses of PAN is from potential tourists looking for information about Seattle. PAN provides a wonderful mechanism to market its own parks and facilities to an audience that is difficult to reach. Tourists are also looking for information that is beyond the scope of what the City normally provides. The City provides funding to the Seattle King County Convention and Visitor's Bureau to provide that information.

Recommendations: The current approach of including and linking to information from non-profit and community based organizations that have a relationship with the City is working well, and should be continued. Wherever possible, links should be integrated into content areas, so that citizens can find information easily. For example, there should be a link to information about purchasing from the State of Washington along with Seattle purchasing information, rather than requiring the user to find the appropriate section through one link to the State's home page.

For tourist information, PAN is working with SKCCVB to get their information on-line and included in PAN to address the needs of visitors. SKCCVB has agreed to pay for the costs of City staff overtime to provide them with assistance. PAN staff should continue to serve as a resource for non-profit organizations who want to put their information on the Internet, but should not do the actual work.

Organizing the Information on PAN so it is Easy to Find

One of the features of the World Wide Web is that it is possible to place links to the same document on many different pages; this helps the user find related information or go to more in-depth information about a subject. PAN currently contains over 1300 documents covering a very wide variety of topics. Even using links, it can be difficult for someone not familiar with City government to find the information they are seeking.

The most common way to search for information on a web site is a key word search. PAN has had this feature since the middle of last year. This is a feature similar to the "find" feature in a word processing program - it looks for the word in a document on the site, and retrieves a list of matching pages.

As the amount of information on the site has grown, PAN staff have added categories and rearranged information to make it easier to access. A major project for PAN in 1996 is a "redesign" to comprehensively reorganize the information on the system and add more navigational tools to help the user move around the site. The redesign project will also add more icons to PAN to reduce the number of long lists that the user must scroll down to find documents.

Next Steps: The redesign project needs to be completed as soon as possible. As additional information is added to the site, the PAN staff should continue to refine the organization of material and include several links to important documents where appropriate.

Identifying and Prioritizing Projects

As the list above demonstrates, there are a tremendous number of possible applications for PAN. No matter how many resources are available, staff have to prioritize on an on-going basis.

The following three criteria can be used to identify and prioritize development of applications.

  1. From the consumer side, what information and services do Seattle citizens and businesses most want to be available electronically? On-line surveys of users and other types of surveys of potential users should be conducted to find out what they want and would use. Users frequently make requests and suggestions through e-mail, and these can be used as well. (Electronic and mail surveys were used to confirm that there was interest in electronic access to DCLU permit information).
  2. From a service delivery point of view, where are the biggest problems City-wide delivering information and services to people that could be improved by electronic access? Where are there the largest potential pay backs? This is primarily an analysis that should come from the departments providing services, with some help from the budget office. PAN recently requested information from departments about potential applications and received a few responses, but did not hear anything from many departments.
  3. Where is there the most motivation and enthusiasm? Where are departments able and willing to invest resources to do the work needed on their end? Successful applications require that both departmental staff and PAN staff be involved in development.

Obviously, the amount of resources required for putting new applications on PAN varies considerably depending upon the complexity of the work required. There is also a very wide difference in the expertise among departments to do their own work - and often the most enthusiastic have the least knowledge and resources. Careful analysis can be undertaken on larger projects, but staff must also balance among projects on a daily basis. Departmental staff must also balance the costs and benefits of communicating electronically and in traditional media, such as with brochures.

Recommendations: The PAN Management Committee identified a list of additional applications that could be included on PAN. In the publishing area, the committee established a goal of publishing electronically 80-90% of the City's brochures and other paper publications, compared to an estimated 10% that are published on PAN today. Police, Seattle Center, and Human Rights/Women's Rights, are three departments which currently have little or no content on PAN; these were identified as high priority. The committee identified a list of potential applications for PAN and tried to assess when they could be done and the resources that might be required (see resource requirements sections). This list is attached in Appendix E. The list should be reviewed at least every six months to assess progress in adding new applications to PAN and to review priorities and resource needs.

Resource Requirements

PAN has three full time staff, interns and a director. One person is the technical lead, one is the content manager and database administrator, and the third is the lead for public access, neighborhood applications and intergovernmental coordination. Their duties are listed in more detail in the organization chart in Appendix C. Between 1 3/4 and 2 FTE work on posting information and developing applications for PAN.

The chart below includes estimates on the time and costs of the PAN staff for developing different types of applications. The ranges shown reflect typical projects, but individual projects could vary based on the complexity of programming needed. There are a number of applications where departments are creating original information for the Internet; these estimates do not include the cost of collecting original data or writing original documents. For the more complex applications, there may be hardware and software cost involved too. We should note that the Utilities have not prepared cost estimates for making their account and billing information available through PAN; because these are such large databases, the costs are likely to exceed even the complex project estimate.

Type of Application

Estimated Hours

Estimated Cost

     

Staff

Consultant

     

$60/hour 1

$90/hour 2

HTML Document Conversion- simple 3 1 4 $60 $240    
HTML Document Conversion - complex 8 24 $480 $1,440    
Major HTML Application with graphics 40 120 $2,400 $7,200    
E- Mail Form 8 16 $480 $960 $720 $1,440
Electronic Form 4 40 80 $2,400 $4,800 $3,600 $7,200
Small/Simple Data Base Development 24 40 $1,440 $2,400 $2,160 $3,600
Medium Data Base/Transaction 80 240 $4,800 $14,400 $7,200 $21,600
Large/Complex Data Base/Transaction 300 600 $18,000 $36,000 $27,000 $54,000
             
1 Hourly staff rate is " fully loaded" cost, derived by dividing the total budget by the number of staff hours available      
2 Consultant cost is hourly rate for experienced Oracle consultant            
3 For average 4-10 page document / could be done by lower paid staff or interns, if available        
4 Includes back-end CGI Programming            
             
Note: Some applications may also require expenditures for additional hardware or software  

There are several strategies that PAN staff are pursuing in order to free up staff capacity to work on the more complex application development. These include a greater use of interns, and training and technical assistance to departmental staff so that they can convert documents themselves. However, now that staff are working on more complex applications, it has become difficult to handle all departmental requests, and there is little capacity to be proactive and initiate new applications. With current staff, it is possible to handle only one large database/transactional application development project at a time.

Recommendations: In order for PAN to devote more resources to developing business applications, including transactions (financial and otherwise), some additional staff resources are necessary. Currently, one staff person is the lead on both content and database applications. Since it is critical to keep content up to date, and important to add new content, without additional staff the amount of time available for major application development involving data bases will be very limited. An additional staff person with expertise in HTML and graphics would make a critical difference in PAN's ability to develop business applications. Interns should continue to be used in supportive functions, but are not appropriate to use as primary departmental contacts. This additional staff would also increase PAN's capacity to train departmental staff to design and post their own content. Through the assessment of possible projects for PAN, the PAN Management Committee identified several applications that needed additional administrative support and coordination --- for example, a calendar of City events. Administrative support for this type of application, as well as for data entry, would enable PAN staff to concentrate on more technical work.

Access to PAN and the Internet

Three areas related to access to PAN and the Internet that are described below. These are public access, the Bulletin Board system (which provides access to much of the same information through a dial-up system), and access for City employees.

Public Access

The City is committed to providing access to electronic information for all citizens, including those who do not have Internet connections at home or work.

Currently, the primary means of that access is through terminals at public libraries connecting to the PAN BBS. The Library has WWW access machines at 9 sites, including extensive computer labs at the Rainier Beach and Downtown Libraries that were funded through a grant from Microsoft. PAN has set up a community access site at Garfield Community Center with both BBS and Web access. PAN staff is working with the Parks Department to set up similar programs at six additional community centers (Delridge, Greenlake, Ballard, South Park, Rainier and Haller Lake, and with the Department of Neighborhoods to install computers in some neighborhood service centers. Existing public access sites are identified in Appendix 6.

There are many different approaches to providing public access. Schools, libraries, community centers and other public facilities all provide sites where computers and programs can be established. Places like the Speakeasy Cafe can also be considered public access sites. But this is only one element of a comprehensive public access program. Enabling human service agencies to share common information, or providing training to groups that are traditionally not highly computer literate, are among a variety of public access strategies that the City can pursue (these two were recent federal grant applications).

Both the Library and Parks Department's experiences to date suggest that some supervision is required in public access sites, both to provide assistance to new users and to make sure that the equipment is not damaged. The model developed for community center sites relies on community volunteers to provide most of this supervision, with some help from existing center staff. Currently, the Garfield Center is not being used to its full potential, because it remains closed unless someone is there to supervise users. Using community volunteers makes sense from an economic point of view, as well as a programmatic one. However, some assistance in organizing these volunteers, as well as technical help with computer problems, is going to be necessary to make effective use of the community access sites. The Library has also indicated that they need additional resources to staff their computer labs in order to have them used to their full potential.

There should be more coordination in the future between PAN and the Library on the siting of public access facilities, so they are equitably spread throughout the City.

Recommendation: Access centers should continue to be set up in community centers. PAN is proposing to include resources in its 1997-98 budget for a Volunteer Coordinator position, with a technical background, to work for the Parks Department to support the centers. One Volunteer Coordinator, with some continuing assistance from the PAN staff should be able to support 12-15 centers. The Library's request for resources to support its labs should receive serious consideration, since they represent such a valuable resource for the community. Grant sources usually prefer to fund one-time costs such as facilities and equipment; however, future grant proposals should seek resources for on-going costs such as staffing and Internet access charges. One possible source of funding for these activities is the Cable Franchise fees; public access is one of the priority uses identified for this revenue by the City Council.

Access for City Employees - Web Browsers

While all City staff with internal e-mail now have Internet e-mail, access to and knowledge of the WWW remains limited within City government. To date, only SCL and the Water Department are putting browsers on all PC's. In some departments, staff assigned to provide information to PAN do not have the appropriate software on their own workstations. Browsers and HTML converters are available for minimal or no cost, but a combination of inertia, concerns about staff abusing the Internet, and LAN administrators busy with other priorities have contributed to this situation. For PAN (and the InWeb) to be effective, much wider distribution of browsers inside City government is essential.

In addition, the City has started using web technology for an Intranet, known as the InWeb. This technology enables information to be shared among employees connected to the City's backbone network. Departments are beginning to post valuable information on the InWeb as an alternative to distributing printed materials. There are several potential cost savings applications that can be developed as well. Fully effective use of the InWeb necessitates that information on it is widely available. (Note: Only a brief discussion of the InWeb is included here - more information will be provided in the 1997-98 proposed budget).

Next Steps: Web browsers should be installed on every PC in the City unless there is a specific reason not to do so. Browsers should be able to read HTML 2.0 plus tables. PAN staff recommend either Netscape or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which both have the required features. City Light, which was a pioneer in installing browsers on all PC Workstations, used an earlier version that can not view tables; whenever feasible, we recommend upgrading these to browsers with table features. Fancy extensions provided in HTML 3.0 (such as for audio and video) are not necessary for most staff at this time.

Bulletin Board System

PAN operates a BBS in addition to the web site. The BBS is accessed with a modem and does not require an Internet connection. All King County and Seattle libraries have dial in terminals. Until now, one of the primary purposes for the BBS was to access the City Clerk's legislative data base. This information will soon be accessible from the web site.

Publications are posted on both the web site and BBS. New data base applications, such the City Directory, are not being developed for the BBS because it would require almost twice as much work.

The PAN BBS provides a few features that are not currently provided through the web site, including teleconferencing and forums. Teleconferencing, also known as chat, provides real-time user to user communication. Forums allow users to post messages about selected topics, similar to Internet newsgroups. These features are not necessarily central to the primary mission of PAN, and have been controversial, although they have some frequent users who are strong supporters. The BBS also provides fax back capability, which is used in a limited number of cases.

BBS users and the reasons they use the system are different from those who use the web site. The BBS has about 1900 registered users; about 600 new accounts are added and inactive ones deleted each month. In March, there were over 15,000 logins, but approximately half the usage was to access the Library or Seattle Community Network. We believe many users go from PAN to these other systems in order to get to the Internet. The BBS has a large component of younger users who, along with adults, participate in teleconferencing and forums.

The main contribution of the BBS to the PAN mission is the access to information it provides for people who have slow modems on home computers. While there are many users of the other features of the system, they do not contribute to the main mission of PAN. While the BBS does not require extensive staffing, that time could be devoted to developing web site applications. PAN's intern who previously worked exclusively on the BBS has learned HTML and is now helping with web site applications. Total cost for operating the BBS, including staff time and modem costs, is estimated at roughly $10,000 - $20,000 per year.

The Public Access Network - Image

Recommendations: The BBS should be phased out at the end of 1997 or sooner. Regardless of how long the BBS remains, new applications should not be developed for it because of the cost and limited use. The system should be shut down only after Internet Web access is available at all or most Seattle Public Libraries and other access sites. PAN should begin discussions with Seattle Community Network (SCN) about whether SCN could pick up any of the functions of the BBS. The forums and teleconference features are discussed in more detail below.

Forums and Chat

One of the major uses for the PAN BBS are the features than enable citizens to communicate among each other and with City officials either in real time (known as teleconference or chat) or by posting messages on forums. These features may either be moderated or left to users. All of the current forums are moderated by PAN staff (who check forums occasionally, not several times a day). The Department of Neighborhoods ran a forum during most of last year, but terminated it because it was not being used to talk about neighborhood issues. The teleconference feature was limited by City Council last year to four hours, because modem lines were being tied up. Staff receive some complaints of harassment and offensive language, and pornography attached to e-mail; staff have been advised by both the City Council and the Law Department that they can no censor material that is posted in the forums, although they can remove messages that are not on the subject of the forum.

Software is available to establish forums on the Web site, but it has not been included to date because of the disappointing experience with the BBS.

Recommendations: PAN should establish forums on the web site only at the request of an elected official or department that commits to moderating the forum. This might work best if forums are set up on a temporary basis on specific "hot" topics, rather than permanently on general subjects. For unmoderated forums, PAN can link to Internet News Groups, which provide essentially the same function.

Marketing PAN

There are so many sites on the Internet that it can be hard for users to find the information they are seeking. Citizens need to know what is available from their City electronically, and they need to know how to find it. PAN staff now make sure that the site is listed on all the major (and some minor) search engines on the Internet. They also try to notify the press when new major features are implemented, such as the recent addition of the City directory.

Recommendations: PAN should continue its current marketing efforts. In addition, some of the other things that the City could do include:

  • PAN needs a brochure directed towards the community, that can be available in libraries, community and neighborhood centers and other appropriate locations. PAN staff are intending to produce one as soon as the redesign project is complete.
  • The City should include PAN's URL (Internet site address) on stationary and all printed reference material. Where appropriate, departmental Email addresses should be included as well.
  • Use Channel 28 to let viewers know what information is available through PAN.
  • Issue press releases to let the media know about major additions to PAN or significant awards won by the City. Recently, a press release sent out by DAS about the City directory and the Magellan 4 star award resulted in coverage in a newspaper and radio station.
  • Make sure that PAN is listed in all of the Internet search sites, as well as sites focused on specific content areas. For example, information on PAN produced by the Office for Women's Rights receives national use because it is listed on a search site targeted towards women.