Questions and answers from Oregon Digital Government Summit

I was a part of a panel at the Oregon Digital Government Summit in Salem, Oregon. Here are a few of the questions I was asked and my responses during the panel “Becoming Citizen-Centric”.

Question: How do you make sure your sites are citizen centric?

Answer: It starts with planning. Our vision is to create a site where services and information are easy to find, easy to access, and easy to understand. Properly typing your content and applications is key to helping people find what they need. You have to train your search engines. Accessibilty is not just an equite issue. Everyone is differently abled at one point in their life. It could be an arm injury or gradual loss of visual acuity with age. It could be cognitive issues caused by injury or even stress. Accessibiliy is also about device differences. Over 50% of our public traffic is mobile—that means every other person is getting their information on a small screen. We have to build for that from the start. Finally, we have to think about how easy our services are to understand. We aim for a reading level of 5th to 8th grade in our content and we are training editors how to check their work before they publish.

Question: What tools help with planning a citizen-centric site or applicaiton?

Answer: We use a wide range of tools. I personally like to start with analytics and any data that describes our users in broad categories. Then, we break down broad metrics into smaller measurements of success that is compared to personaes that we create for types of community members.

To make sure we are not missing a point of view, we do pretty exhaustive usability testing of our tools after they have been built and respond to that feedback in our products.

Question: You mention findability? How do you make sure things are easy to find on your site?

Answer: People use two techniques to get to content; they browse and they search. Browsing is about a really solid information architecture that uses words our community understands. People don’t care about our org charts. They don’t care about the bureaucracy. They just want to finish a task as quickly as possible.

Search is a little trickier. Too many sites implement a search appliance or an application and do nothing to train that application to understand the underlying content. Here is an example. For the city of Portland, parks, park, parked, parking all have slightly different meanings in search. The first two should deliver information about our Parks and Recreation programs. The last two should deliver information about parking tickets and parking meters. Out of the box, a search engine will treat all of those versions of the word “park” as the same thing. We have to train our search engines and that is a lot of really detailed work that is more art than purely science.

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