Month: March 2015

How one city changed its website for the better (and has the analytics to prove it)

City of Ferndale

Source: City of Ferndale

A few years ago after I let the first government WordPress theme I created languish, I got an email from City of Ferndale Assistant City Administrator Sam Taylor asking if he could get the latest version (which was no longer available).

Sam’s email was the impetus for building a new theme, now called GovPress, that Devin Price and I developed with his feedback, and Ferndale deployed a beta version in July of 2013 (more on the history here).

Given the recent discussion around analytics and the new analytics.usa.gov, I asked Sam if I could see Ferndale’s, mostly because I was curious as to how or if a new design had changed user traffic and site activity.

I’ll let the screenshot above speak for itself.

What’s important to understand here is that, no matter how small a city you are, you can deploy a low-cost website, including a content management system and design with a simple, mobile-friendly interface and provide immediate results for citizens.

Ideas for the new White House chief digital officer

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

Photo: Pete Souza/White House

On Tuesday, the White House named former Twitter product lead Jason Goldman as the nation’s first chief digital officer.

From Goldman announcing his new role:

“The platforms that have been the most successful are the ones that have created the best and most meaningful opportunities for participation. My job will be to use those online tools to create meaningful opportunities for American citizens to participate in our government.”

In his announcement Goldman asks citizens (using the hashtag #socialcivics) to share their answers to the question, “How can we — our government and you and your communities — better connect online to make America better?”

Here are my ideas:

  • Turn whitehouse.gov into a media outlet for our times. The White House is essentially a media machine, telling the story of the president and, more broadly, the executive branch. It produces great content — blogs, videos, photos — but whitehouse.gov as we currently know it is a product built for 2009 and so much in media and web product design has changed since then. We are starting to learn, and even know more about, what a government website should be. Currently, whitehouse.gov looks like what we imagine when we think “government.” Whitehouse.gov should follow the same approach as Medium, Vox, even Buzzfeed, to make government feel more informative, approachable, engaged and alive.
  • In a perfect world, we’d do the above for usa.gov, because this could truly begin to unite and inspire citizens (and those aspiring to be) around the concept of a unified “America.” There is no better product branding for getting citizens engaged online than usa.gov. Also, it’s a little shocking the greatest URL in the world currently doesn’t even make it into the .gov top 20 list.
  • Go casual. Government, especially Washington, D.C., is seen as too buttoned-up, and this plays into its approachability and interest. Most people tune out authority during a conversation, because they assume they’re either not being listened to or are going to get lectured. This is how people see government. I’m not suggesting President Obama wear hockey shirts for the weekly address, but more that the faces and vibe of whitehouse.gov media outlet should reflect the image of the American public (beyond the Beltway).
  • Take “petitions” out of “We the People.” Currently, WTP is branded as a tool for citizens to share their grievances, rather than a mechanism to have a conversation. The WTP product should be re-imagined to serve as a platform for citizens, including the president, to engage with the executive branch and Congress. President Obama should open it up as a tool for all branches of government to have a conversation with the American people.
  • Have a call to action for everything. After every post, photo or video, direct citizens to engagement. Currently, we’re just being press released without context to learning more or getting involved.
  • Think about the general experience and make it easier for citizens to find what they need. What we know from the new federal analytics dashboard is that citizens want to complete a task related to a form. If it’s difficult to find to accomplish these tasks, your efforts around the above will lose merit.
  • Addendum: Read the U.S. Public Participation Playbook (thanks Dan Morgan!)

Making whitehouse.gov a more approachable media outlet and directly coupling it with a fresh platform for engagement, the U.S. chief digital officer has the opportunity to change the way we see government and inspire us to start paying attention.

Congratulations to Jason on an amazing opportunity and perhaps the best gig in government.

Register and learn how Salt Lake City is going agile

Salt Lake City

Join Agile Government Leadership tomorrow via Google Hangout on Air for a discussion on how Salt Lake City is implementing agile development.

Panelists

  • Bill Haight, CIO, Salt Lake City
  • Drew Gordan, IMS Business Services Manager, Salt Lake City
  • Elizabeth Raley, Director of Professional services, CivicActions
  • Luke Fretwell, GovFresh

Details

Agile Government in Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City first introduced Agile processes in the City Council’s office and, since then the Information Management Services office has adopted it as a core component of its project management. Salt Lake City CIO Bill Haight and IMS Business Services Manager Drew Gordan will share how they introduced and implemented Agile, including advice, challenges and lessons learned.

Register here

Quick thoughts, takeaways from the new federal government analytics dashboard

Source: analytics.usa.gov

Source: analytics.usa.gov

After reviewing the first iteration of the newly-launched analytics.usa.gov, here are some quick thoughts and takeaways:

  • The federal government fails the mobile-friendly test it created two years ago in the White House digital strategy. In fact, most of the top 20 most-visited federal .gov websites do not employ responsive web practices. Especially surprising is that nasa.gov isn’t mobile-friendly.
  • A number of these sites have complementary mobile apps, but given the traffic numbers and the fact that a third of web users are coming from mobile devices, resources allocated to app development is a seemingly wasted investment, especially since responsive web design is a “two birds one stone” approach to digital services. Once the General Services Administration’s Digital Analytics Program exposes that data, we’ll know more.
  • irs.gov is in need of a major overhaul, especially given the number of users who visit the site. This should be the top priority of the White House digital and technology leadership teams.
  • Users are visiting .gov websites for services, not to learn about government. Developers of .gov websites should be asking themselves what the service is citizens need from a particular agency rather than creating a brochure website about the agency or its secretary. Many of these still fall into the latter category.
  • uscis.gov is leading on these fronts.
  • Every .gov domain should have a /analytics pages that redirects to their respective analytics.usa.gov pages.
  • Given its momentum around adopting open source technologies, would be interesting to see government explore the use of Piwik for web analytics.
  • I’d love to see an integration with the analytics numbers to the respective budgets of each site’s development costs. Example: When searching irs.gov on usaspending.gov, you find that from (what appears to be) 2008-2011, more than $62 million was allocated to site development. Given that usaspending.gov is fairly confusing, this type of information would be great to see linked in connection to analytics. We could then see how development costs stack up to actual usage and make a real return on investment analysis on these projects. This would start to get us closer to what a real IT dashboard should look like.
  • There’s been a lot of attention on the big number showing how many users are currently on a .gov website. It’s an interesting visual, but mostly emphasizes how many users are underserved by the federal government’s approach to web design and development.
  • Will be great to see a drill-down of the analytics for all domains.
  • This is incredible work and kudos to everyone involved. The White House should host a cook-out celebration for everyone who helped build analytics.usa.gov. I don’t think most people realize the opportunities into government efficiency, transparency and better serving citizens that will be realized as this dashboard is enhanced.

Building big tent democracy

Photo: Luke Fretwell

Photo: Luke Fretwell

We started CivicMakers for one simple reason–to connect passionate citizens who are building a better democracy in our communities, workplaces and political institutions.

From civic engagement platforms like DemocracyOS and Neighborland, to the spread of participatory budgeting programs from New York City to Vallejo, California, we’re excited and inspired by a new movement for a 21st century democracy that is sprouting up all around us.

It’s been our mission to support this movement by providing a space for it to continue to flourish. In eight short months, we’ve done just that by hosting seven events for nearly 1,000 citizens from San Francisco to New York City.

One trend we’ve seen is that the “civic tech” movement, despite incredible passion and demonstrated success, stands apart from the broader tech sector. Millennials, for example, are flocking to social enterprise because of their inclination for impact, but many are unaware of the huge opportunity for impact in the civic tech space. Ditto for those in the “social good” space, who either haven’t heard of civic tech, or, if they have, don’t know how to plug in to hackathons, Github, open source, etc.

The time is now to build a “big tent for democracy”–a strong, broad-yet-deep community of citizens of all stripes and vocations who are dedicated to democracy in the many contexts of our society.

We are in the early stages of erecting the scaffolding for this tent, a platform to connect “democracy practitioners” who need solutions and implementation guidance for their projects (e.g., nonprofits, local agencies, benefit corporations, community organizations, etc.) with “civic tech developers” who are looking for users and clients for their products. We envision this platform as a knowledge base that supports citizens who are creating, implementing, and reporting back on their experiments in building a better democracy, whatever the context.

Sound cool?

We think so, but we want to hear from you. We’ve posted a short survey, and your candid feedback will help us identify the missing gaps in the successful discovery, adoption and implementation of the growing number of civic tech and collective governance tools available.

Your insight and experience is invaluable as we work with the civic tech community to build a big tent for the growing network of citizens that together are making democracy a reality.

Take the civic tech survey.

The 4 most popular .gov websites aren’t mobile friendly

Top 5 .gov websites

Source: analytics.usa.gov

Despite a digital strategy issued by the White House two years ago calling for more mobile-friendly citizen services, the top four most-visited federal government websites over the past 30 days fail this test according to new analytics numbers released by the General Services Administration.

The new analytics.usa.gov dashboard launched last Thursday, culls data from 300 (of “approximately” 1,350) executive branch domains, highlights the most-visited websites and breaks down visitor numbers by devices, browsers and operating systems.

The top four trafficked websites over the past 30 days are irs.gov, weather.gov, usajobs.gov and nps.gov.

None of these websites, however, adhere to responsive web design standards, a development approach that allows for websites to easily adapt to a user’s device, be it phone, tablet or desktop, and provide an appropriate, enjoyable user experience.

According to the analytics, 25 percent of visitors to .gov websites are using mobile devices. Including tablet users, more than a third of citizens are getting a less-than-optimal user experience while visiting these sites.

Those top four domains alone have received nearly 200 million visits over the past 30 days.

One notable omission to the data is healthcare.gov, which does meet mobile standards, but is not included in the analytics numbers.

“Our services must work well on all devices,” says a post on the White House website announcing the analytics dashboard.

“Over the past 90 days, 33% all traffic to our sites came from people using phones and tablets. Over the same period last year, the number was 24%. Most of this growth came from an increase in mobile traffic. Every year, building digital services that work well on small screens becomes more important.”

Per a May 2013 federal digital strategy published by the White House, “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People,” agencies should enable “the American people and an increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.”

“We are also optimizing Federal websites for mobile devices and creating mobile apps to ensure government services are available to citizens anywhere, anytime and on any device,” wrote former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and former Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel announcing the strategy in 2013.

According to its “Minimum Computer Requirements for Free File Fillable Forms” page, irs.gov doesn’t support the Safari web browser, which drives 20 percent of all visitor traffic to .gov domains and is the default browser for iPhone and iPad users.

The analytics tool was built by 18F, GSA’s Digital Analytics Program and the new U.S. Digital Service.

It’s time for a national chief data officers council

U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil  (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/oreillyconf/16583022141">O'Reilly Conferences</a>)

U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil (Photo: O’Reilly Conferences)

As momentum around appointing public sector chief data officers grows, it’s time for the federal government to get ahead of the curve and create a formal chief data officers council similar to, but more inclusive, proactive and public than the already-established U.S. Chief Information Officers Council.

We’ve recently seen a number of federal agencies appoint formal CDO positions, including the Departments of Transportation, Energy and, just last week, Commerce. Even the White House upped the ante and validated the importance of data by naming DJ Patil as the nation’s first chief data scientist.

“Given the substantial benefits that responsibly and creatively deployed data can provide to us and our nation, it is essential that we work together to push the frontiers of data science,” wrote Patil upon his appointment.

While this momentum, including that at the state and local levels, coupled with the work being done through Project Open Data, is inspiring, there is still a lack of national community, purpose and public visibility on a unified direction and momentum.

As public data becomes a larger and important component of government’s service to citizens, it’s imperative that our federal technology leadership take a proactive role in bringing together public data leaders across all levels of government to share best practices and create support and momentum for a national data movement.

The U.S. Chief Data Officers Council, building on objectives established by the CIO Council, should execute on, but not limit itself to, the following:

  • Set implementation, security, privacy and policy guidelines that can be re-purposed across all federal, state and local agencies.
  • Provide metadata standards frameworks that can serve as a guide for governments at federal, state and local levels.
  • Create higher expectations and quarterly reviews of how well Data.gov is successfully delivering on its mission.
  • Publish quarterly report cards on how well federal agencies, states and cities are implementing open data initiatives.
  • Openly and actively communicate, engage and collaborate with the open data community at large on the above.

With a formal U.S. Chief Data Officers Council, we can establish unified, national leadership on the importance and bigger picture of data and expedite its power to truly impact every aspect of our lives.

Per President Obama, Patil says “data science is a team sport.”

Let’s build that team.

Nextdoor now lets neighbors poll one another, better quantify results

NextdoorThe fast-growing, neighborhood-based community platform Nextdoor has launched a new feature, Nextdoor Polls, that now allows neighbors to easily ask one another questions and quantify the results.

As governments continue to integrate Nextdoor into their engagement strategies, polls will undoubtedly be a key feature in informally gauging public feedback on various issues. Given that many use the app for suggestions on services, this could also be leveraged by local businesses as a source for market research to learn more about what the community wants or how it could serve them better.

From Nextdoor’s Morgan Hallmon:

“Polls work similarly to other newsfeed posts. They may be shared with the neighborhood, nearby neighborhoods, or any groups to which a member belongs. All responses to the poll are completely anonymous, which allows polls to be used for a wide variety of applications. Anyone who receives the poll may cast a single vote until the poll is closed, at which point the results are displayed for all members of the neighborhood or group.”

Nextdoor recently raised an additional $100 million in investment that puts its valuation at $1.1 billion.

For more about Nextdoor, read Nancy Scola’s excellent feature in NextCity.

5 ways CIOs and IT vendors can work better together

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers has released a great brief on how CIOs can work better together.

“Anecdotally we know that some CIOs have expressed concern with technology companies’ approach to business development and relationship practices with the states,” says the guide. “IT partners should approach meetings with the mind-set of solving a problem for a state, not just explaining the benefits of a product.”

The guide, “Building Successful Relationships: State CIO Advice for IT Partners,” addresses five key points, including:

  1. Be prepared
  2. Anticipate and understand the state’s problems
  3. Know the best methods for securing and having meetings
  4. Develop and cultivate trust
  5. Know how to use lobbyists/government relations professionals

According to NASCIO, from 2010 to 2014, “outsourcing of some IT applications and services has grown from 42 percent to 81 percent.”

Download the full report (.pdf)

GovTribe brings a better user experience to federal government acquisition

Source: govtribe.com

Source: govtribe.com

In an industry that constantly talks about transforming government procurement, one startup is been quietly making a go of it, and it just keeps getting better.

Few businesses are legitimately tackling the Herculean task of federal government acquisition but with GovTribe, and its new web release late last year, we’re starting to see what FedBizOps and related commercial offerings could and should be doing.

GovTribe first released as a mobile app, however, in November it launched a web version that offers, relative to related services, a lower cost option with a much simpler user interface and forward-thinking approach to web-based services for all elements of the acquisition spectrum.

One of the most important aspects of GovTribe’s web offering is that this is the first time this type of information has been publicly-accessible and usable in a format like this, whereas other commercial offering are hidden behind a paywall or, in the case of FedBizOps, lack a useful interface for those unfamiliar with the nuances of federal procurement.

According to GovTribe co-founder and CEO Nate Nash, since the launch, the site has averaged 7,000 unique visitors and 30,000 page views per month. The site has delivered 800,000 past and present opportunities, 60,000 contracting officer profiles, 200,000 vendor profiles, agencies, offices and NAICs codes. Other features include custom alerting, pipeline tracking and market profiles.

There are freemium (track up to three keywords) and paid ($16/month) versions, as well as subscription access to its application programming interface.

GovTribe also offers custom reports, a “service providing deep dive analysis into specific market segments.”

Here’s an excerpt of a recent email exchange Nash and I:

“When people in this town think of government contracting, they typically think of the big brand name players. Initially, that’s what we thought our market should be. However, there is a massive segment of small and medium-sized businesses working on government contracts all over the country.”

“Sure, SAIC does a ton of business. But there are also a bunch of companies serving the 20M annual peanut butter market. Those folks are totally underserved when it comes to market intel. And those folks are now our customers.

“The influx of calls we get from people looking to get into the government contracting game has been eye opening. They find us because we are one of the few services that puts all of the opportunities on our website, for free.

“It has been really cool to speak with people who have small firms that do awesome work, and want to do it for the government. We think that is exactly what the government contracting market needs. Better access equals a more competitive marketplace and ultimately leads to better government services.”

As new, low-cost, enterprise web-based offerings continue to expand across all sectors, GovTribe now provides one to an industry that desperately needs it, on a fundamental component critical to making government work better.

Making it easier to access federal business opportunities is just one aspect to building a better procurement process, but it’s the start, and startup, that we need.