January 11, 2012 By Brian Heaton
The expression “big things come in small packages” may commonly refer to the birth of a child, but officials in Campbell County, Va., hope the saying also applies to recent enhancements made to the county’s website.
Content on the site’s home page has been altered to spotlight county news, rather than display static historical information. In addition, the county added a customizable “Quick Links” section that highlights popular items such as GIS data and tax information. While the adjustments are relatively small, officials hope they provide better access to services and ultimately spark more citizen engagement in the community.
Anne Blair, Campbell County’s IT director, said the goal was to make the home page have a more immediate feel to it, and a place where people could get more timely information. The county’s previous home page layout worked fine, Blair said, but there hadn’t been a major upgrade to the site since 2007. Personnel wanted to modernize it a bit.
Sherry Harding, public information officer with Campbell County, said a new strategy for communicating on the Web was needed, particularly as mobile devices have changed the way people access information.
“Citizens are more proactive in their search for up-to-date, real-time local information that impacts them and their families,” Harding said. “As keeping the public informed has always been a priority for Campbell County, we decided to take a fresh, news-oriented approach to online information.”
“We’re now focusing on current issues in the locality, public safety measures, new services available to residents and other items of general interest,” she added.
The project was also a lesson in teamwork between the county’s IT and communications teams. Blair said the collaboration led to an appreciation for the expertise both sides brought to the table.
For example, on the home page, news entries are given a time and date stamp. But that addition was something Blair said that the IT staff wasn’t sure was needed. After conferring with communications personnel, they realized having that small item gives readers the sense they are getting the latest information from the county and was ultimately worth the extra time to build into the system.
“IT tends to do the techie items, but it was interesting and very rewarding to see when you bring in other folks and get a different perspective to help formulate the end product,” Blair said.
In addition to the home page changes, an email subscription service was added to the site that alerts subscribers via Google Groups when news items are posted, giving users the choice to visit the website for more information.
The county is also moving The Campbell County Chronicle — a printed, four-page, biannual newsletter — to a digital format. The newsletter will now be called Vision, and instead of being mailed it will be published on a monthly basis to the Campbell County website.
Content for the new publication will include news, actions from the county Board of Supervisors and updates on county services and programs. By going to a digital format, Campbell County will also save $16,000 per year in mailing and printing costs. Paper copies will be available at libraries in the area.
Campbell County’s website tweaks were the latest in a recent string of local governments that have launched upgraded or new Web portals over the last few weeks. The cities of Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, are currently beta testing their websites after significant overhauls.
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