Aside from recognizing the best websites in government, the Center for Digital Government’s annual Best of the Web awards also provide the world a benchmark of how well state and local governments in the U.S. are doing their job. For each government website using modern design principles, there’s an organization behind it that’s serving its citizens more effectively, efficiently and conveniently than it did the year prior. This year’s winners are a reflection of progress in government service delivery.
The first place winners in their respective categories for 2015 are the city of Independence, Mo., Sacramento County, Calif., and the state of Arkansas. This year, 33 state and local government websites were recognized — and these winners showcase a few common themes.
The best government websites tend to use simple, high-image, low-text designs; prioritize accessibility and mobility; prominently feature a search function; and start with a design philosophy that puts the user first. These elements have long been cornerstones of good design. The fact that Arkansas.gov put a search box front and center, that Independence's portal used a mobile-first design framework or that every departmental page on saccounty.net takes on a common look are not so much trends as they are a grander recognition by government that the design world has certain things figured out — and that success on the Web is simply a matter of following standards, using the tools that are available and minding their businesses.
Whatever the department, the aim of government is serving its citizens. Where this year’s winning websites succeed is largely a function of their ability to get out of the way when they’re not needed and appear when they are, like an affable shop clerk. The Independence website, which launched in February of this year after 12 months of development by a three-man design team (including the CIO), is a great example of providing the user with enough information to easily find anything they need, while never overwhelming him with more information than he wants. Each area on the website's front page provides the user just enough information to decide where he wants to branch off to next. A menu bar is always present at the top of the page, but small enough that it can be easily ignored. Small menus under the search bar quickly expand and disappear as needed, also without taking too much screen space. A "trending now" bar pulls city resources out from obscurity and onto the front page. A City Stat widget shares with users miscellaneous facts about the city’s online services like, “410 customers paid their utilities bill online yesterday.”
The front page, which uses bright colors and a flat look, is a cross-section of the entire organization that gives the user a dozen different ways to find something interesting or relevant.
“Of course, you need to refresh your website every four or so years,” said Mark Baumann, IT director for Independence. “But this is part of an ongoing effort here at the city to implement advanced technologies that increase our operational efficiencies, but also toward enhancing citizen engagement. That’s the driving force behind this website, this new city council goal on technology.” The city wanted to avoid the old style of text-heavy government websites in which the user is expected to navigate a hierarchy of businesses and services, Baumann said. And it took the typical Internet user’s habits into account too, he said. “We didn’t want it to look like your typical government website where you try to cram everything in on one view,” he said. “We wanted to make use of scrolling. People nowadays, whether they’re on a mobile device or if they’re sitting on their computer with a mouse, they’re used to scrolling. We felt it was OK for us to have a long home webpage.” The most important thing for any website is that it’s easy to use, and Independence’s website is easy to use on any device, thanks to the design team’s use of the Bootstrap framework and an intuitive design. A single sign-on simplifies things for users accessing more than one service across the city. And an always-present, but easily ignorable, “Get Help” button serves as a safety net to ensure that even the least technical user can always find what he is looking for. Nothing spoils the image of fine redwood veneer like poking through and finding a hodgepodge of particle board and plywood on the other side. Many government websites revamp their main portal only to leave its dozens of agency websites untouched. An intuitive portal goes a long way toward getting the user where he needs to go, but the best government websites finish the job, as Sacramento County has done by integrating all of its content into the same look and feel as the main page of the website.
Judges were impressed by an elegant design that managed to integrate many features without making the website feel cramped. A text-only button gives mobile users or users with slow connections a toggle switch for the website’s many graphics and images. A link on the front page provides quick access to an index of county data sets. A SacCounty News Widget provides users a window to nearly 200 articles published by the Public Information Office each year. And behind the scenes, county staff use a single Web content management system. The Sacramento County website design is similar to that of Independence in that it’s designed with the user’s needs in mind. County CIO Rami Zakaria recalled a change in the website’s direction starting in 2011 when he met with the newly hired county CEO. The makings of a great website were there, he said — it just needed a little love. “At the time, he felt our website was not hard-hitting, not dynamic, did not convey energy, or did not convey what we were hoping to be or how to present our county,” Zakaria said. “We wanted the website that was rich in graphics, rich in pictures. The functionality was there. We wanted to expand our online services and so on, so we set out to do that. So if you look at 2011 and prior, our website was very text-heavy. Use of pictures and graphics was really minimized.” Making a great website requires a great design team, Zakaria said, but that’s a given. The other thing a government needs for a great website is an organization that can collaborate and work as one, he said. “Having the county function as one county and the departments be all on the same page with the same goal,” Zakaria said. “One of the things we struggled with in the past was that every department wanted to do things their own way, and if you went to our website and you went to the departments, they looked different. If you go to any department’s websites, you’ll see common look and feel, you’ll see a common approach to searching for content and for finding content.” This iteration of the Sacramento County website launched in August 2014 after about three months of development by an internal six-person team, not including the CIO. Future plans for updates to the website include a single sign-on, Zakaria said, and a dashboard that gives users a broad overview of a single account with the county. “We’re really proud of the website,” Zakaria said. “For us, it’s our busiest public counter. Ten years ago, if you wanted to do business with the county, you came in to pay your taxes at the county office, or you go to the county clerk recorder for getting documents and so on. What we’re trying to do is really make it our 24/7 public counter. You could do anything on our website you can do in office, with very few exceptions.” Mobility is increasingly important for Web users, and that’s why Arkansas.gov got a mobile redesign in May 2013. The website has seen many improvements and updates since then, including the launch of several supplementary mobile apps for Android, iOS and Apple Watch, like Gov2Go, a state-centric personal assistant that helps users track deadlines, get reminders and ask questions.
The state realized that about 45 percent of its website’s users were mobile, said Arkansas chief technology officer Mark Myers, and since then, the state’s outreach strategy has trended more heavily in that direction.
Making Web content device-agnostic and easily accessible for users is as simple as finding good designers who know to use comprehensive and well-supported front-end frameworks like Pure, Bootstrap or Foundation. The broader view, Myers said, is more involved.
“We’re bringing all the different agencies together, so it’s not just about design standards, it’s about making sure that the services that people want are optimized,” Myers said. “And how to do that? You’ve got to talk to the business owners, the individual agencies.”
Arkansas’ website is developed by NIC. Choosing which services to bring forward on the website, or which new apps to create, is a process that starts by meeting with the state’s various departments through an NIC board, Myers explained.
“The board is made up of sector agencies and a handful of private-sector folks, and we talk about what is the functionality we would like to have, what are the things that make sense, and we talk about the strategy going forward, what’s the strategic plan?” Myers said. “Then, NIC and designers work together on how to implement that plan, so it’s a partnership between both the public and private sectors.”
This year’s first place award is Arkansas’ 10th consecutive year being recognized in Best of the Web. In 2015, Arkansas.gov is the state website that did everything right. It’s user-centric, all the content has been integrated into a common look and feel, the front page takes a non-invasive cross-section approach to data presentation, the state’s social media presence is heavily featured, the search tool allows users to filter results by agency, person, service, jobs or other pages, and users who want even more can download an app that will personalize their relationship with the state.
This year’s class of winning websites shows that government is embracing the fact that it can’t do everything. One of the biggest coups of technology’s general advancement over the past decade is that sophisticated technologies are easily and quickly adaptable. Tools that would have cost millions to develop just 10 years ago can be had today with a bit of expertise and knowing where to download the right open-source tools. Government is spending less time fighting with custom tools and sticking to its job, which is serving the people. Also worth mentioning is the citizen tax dollars that government saves through technology-enabled government efficiencies and innovations.
The city of Boulder, Colo., for instance, saved an estimated $100,000 in system costs and $70,000 annually through the use of open-source software for the deployment of its Elasticsearch search engine. Indiana, an NIC partner, processed more than 9.6 transactions, almost 3 million of those within the department of motor vehicles, generating $1.51 billion in gross revenue and saving the state $20.1 million. Independence, Mo., saves $38 million in annual costs because 30 percent of its citizen transactions happen online. Sacramento’s Open Data Portal is said to save the county more than $100,000 in labor costs that would have otherwise been required. The state of Utah processed 1.4 million drivers' licenses online last year, contributing to a total of $46 million saved over the past five years through online transactions. Arkansas had 1.2 million visitors last year, resutling in transactions that saved the state $309 million.
Best of the Web Winner and Finalist Breakdown
State Portal Category
1st Place: Arkansas // www.arkansas.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 98,000
Top-ranked Arkansas is focused on a post-portal future. The state launched an app in April that’s intended to be an intelligent “personal government assistant,” delivering hyper-relevant information and services to state residents. Gov2Go, available for iPhone and Android, tracks deadlines and issues reminders for common transactions like property tax payments and license renewals. The more citizens use it, the smarter the platform becomes about their individual needs. Two-way text messaging provides automated responses to frequently asked questions and hands users off to live agents if they need more assistance. The function uses natural language-processing technology linked to multiple government databases to deliver appropriate responses to citizen questions. Although the traditional state portal isn’t going anywhere — it had 1.2 million visits last year and processed more than $309 million in e-gov transactions — Arkansas officials expect a growing number of citizen-to-government interactions to be handled through Gov2Go, which is available on desktop, laptop and all mobile devices, including Apple Watch. State officials say the app offers better and more personalized service to citizens, particularly those using mobile devices. In the future, the platform will include business registration and professional licensing, ultimately offering intelligent features that guide users through complicated business regulatory requirements. Arkansas partners with NIC for its portal and Gov2Go platform.
2nd Place: Utah // www.utah.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 1.5 million
Utah relaunched its state portal in April after a complete redesign guided by analytics and user behavior studies. The result is a truly device-agnostic site that gives users quick, personalized access to the information and services they need. The site, operated through a partnership with NIC, uses mobile-friendly “single long-page design” and adjusts dynamically and automatically to any device. The new Utah.gov’s master data index includes more than 7,000 searchable items that are intelligently classified, tagged and geotagged to deliver precise search results. Deep understanding of user behavior drove the creation of targeted microsites that contain collections of content for particular activities. For instance, citizens are routed to curated city and county resources based on their location, and business users automatically go to industry-specific microsites that contain licensing, permitting and registration resources tailored to their needs. E-government transactions conducted through the portal saved the state more than $46 million over the past five years, according to an independent study. Last year, Utah residents renewed 1.4 million vehicle licenses online, avoiding the need for eight new DMV buildings, the state says. And a new online real estate license process saves $133 per transaction. A single sign-on function lets users log into hundreds of secure online applications with a single set of credentials.
3rd Place: Indiana // www.IN.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 3.5 million
Indiana’s IN.gov portal jumped to a third-place finish this year after being ranked a finalist in 2014. The site boasts a number of refinements intended to improve searchability and offer new personalization options. Indexed databases have strengthened the search function, and subcategories within agency lists help citizens find the resources they need. Users can create an account that personalizes their portal experience. For instance, they can create lists of agencies, services and events that are important to them. They also can receive emailed travel advisories for the counties they select and subscribe to a wide range of email or text alerts distributed through Indiana’s GovDelivery enterprise notification system. Nearly 3 million unique users have subscribed to alerts on 5.9 million different topics, according to the state. The site, operated through a partnership with NIC, processed more than 9.6 million transactions last year, generating $1.51 billion in gross revenue. Almost 3 million of those online transactions were with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, saving the state more than $20.1 million.
4th Place: Mississippi // www.ms.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 87,000
After making the list of finalists in 2013, Mississippi didn’t place in the 2014 Best of the Web contest. That year, the state was working to enhance the mobile-first design of ms.gov, setting a new standard for citizen interaction on any device. IT officials set out to offer focused user-sourced content, cleanly presented with carefully crafted imagery — a portal that is nicely balanced between information delivery and functionality. The state’s portal also takes citizen engagement one step further by bringing a personalized experience to each user, allowing visitors to tailor their ms.gov experience with a selected background image and site colors. Also, MyMS lets users set alerts and custom reminders, and the comprehensive agency directory, state map, elected officials' social media channels, Mississippi news, alerts, job searches and latest online state services can be found on the ms.gov homepage by simply clicking through dynamic content slides. And to promote transparency in government, the state’s dedicated transparency portal makes finding data quick and easy.
5th Place: Texas // www.texas.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 479,000
In revamping Texas.gov, officials used the mindset that simplicity is innovation, and debuted the single-page “find it your way” portal that lets users interact in a way that’s comfortable while still providing immediate, secure access to information and services they need. This approach was achieved by concentrating on three things: analytics, search and responsive design. Using analytics, IT officials could make informed decisions about what is — and isn’t — essential to Texas.gov users. The portal’s features and functionality were then streamlined to keep only what is valuable to and necessary for users. Then, the search functionality was improved further so that users can access official government services and information quickly and safely by either typing in the search bar or clicking the “find it” tab. And as for the more than 30 percent of Texas.gov users who visit on mobile devices, the site now functions smoothly using responsive design. For judges, the informal and colloquial writing style stood out. For example, when hovering over the “Find It” tab, a pop-up reads, “Information made simple! Find everything on Texas.gov neatly organized in one place. You're welcome.” Or when hovering over “Services,” the pop-up reads, “There’s plenty of government business you can do online. Get 'er done!” As one of the judges said: "Props to Texas for being bold enough to speak so informally and engagingly."
Finalist: Kentucky // www.kentucky.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 154,000
Finalist: Maine // www.maine.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 850,000
Every year, IT officials adapt the design of Maine.gov to align with new demands from users, and 2015 is no exception. The updated portal is efficient, accessible and provides new resources for constituents through open data initiatives and news and notification services. Making a move toward efficiency, officials updated the portal to a flat, simple design that allows users to focus on the content while simultaneously showcasing high-quality images without losing speed or efficiency. The site also utilizes responsive design, automatically adjusting for desktop, tablet or smartphone viewing, and it ensures accessibility for everyone, including those who are disabled and require the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers. When it comes to transparency, the state has partnered with Socrata to create an open data portal. Overall, judges found Maine.gov easy to navigate with a clean design throughout, citing the portal as a good example of simpler design. Also noteworthy is the fact that the state has 56 mobile apps and is using mobile templates for app development.
Finalist: Maryland // www.maryland.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 5.3 million
Maryland is yet another state reporting an increase in mobile traffic this year: nearly 35 percent growth, with some agencies seeing as much as 50 percent. The state is responding by focusing on three core tenants in all online pursuits, driven by site analytics — ease of use, services first and mobility. Thirty mobile-ready services have been added in the past year, along with the MyMARYLAND tool, the state's take on personalization that points out nearby state resources. Users can also save accessed content for future use with MyMARYLAND's clipboard feature, highly visible throughout the site. The responsive card design organizes content into topic cards that adjust based on user device. Maryland's portal features real-time social media integration, as well it should. The state has nearly 300 official social media accounts that reach more than 821,000 people each day. Among the new services added in the past year is a central business licensing and registration site, which saw almost 50,00 business filings. Beyond the convenience of an online versus an "in line" service, the upgrade reduced approval times for customers from 10 weeks to one to two days.
Finalist: Michigan // www.michigan.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 4.2 million
Like so many high-achieving state portals, Michigan's website, and the 130 sites within it, is responsive, providing an optimized experience to users regardless of the device they use to connect. Any new public applications must adhere to responsive design principles as well. This past year saw the launch of MiLogin, a single sign-on identity management service across the enterprise. Keeping customer data secure, the service allows residents to easily conduct business with a variety of state agencies without having to keep track of multiple log-ins and passwords. MiLogin is also available on the customer-focused MiPage mobile app. Keeping with the "Mi" naming convention, the state offers the MiPrepares mobile app that helps residents put together a comprehensive family emergency plan to beef up their preparedness, while MiChildSupport offers child support information and notifications to 95,000 active users. Another new tool that's come online in recent months is the instant online gaming site iLotto, which generated nearly $7 million in gross profits in its first seven months of operation.
Finalist: Oregon // www.oregon.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 1.48 million
Boasting a high rate of connectivity — 94 percent of residents have Internet access from home — the pressure is on Oregon webmasters to deliver a site that works for its residents. Feedback received via user testing, a key component of the state's Web design process, led to fine-tuning of the site's organization and accessibility. Mobile-first thinking led to refinements like large buttons, streamlined content and simple, task-focused navigation. For example, the most common tasks that visitors seek are related to payments, forms, licenses and drivers, and now they can access those services directly from the home page. Mobile traffic increased 13 percent following recent tweaks to the website's mobile performance. Focused user testing with the disabled community led to a host of enhancements as well since the state found that simply meeting established standards for accessibility left challenges for a significant segment of the population. Oregon also offers users an opportunity to engage with the state's site, with an Instagram hashtag campaign (#MyOregon) that encourages residents to tag pictures capturing the state's natural beauty and see them on the Oregon.gov home page.
Finalist: Rhode Island // www.ri.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 74,000
The staff behind RI.gov aligned the new home page with Gov. Gina Raimondo's four core priorities: making the state more business-friendly, using e-government services to maximize efficiency, increasing transparency and growing tourism. According to state officials, Rhode Island was the first in the nation to embrace responsive and mobile-first Web design, and it now offers 150 online applications and 140 subportal sites. Overall, the website logged nearly 1.2 million online transactions in 2014, each of which prevents a resident from visiting a state office in person. RI.gov's minimalist design is intentional, making the site simpler to navigate, more accessible and more legible to all visitors regardless of device. The state added an animal shelter Web service this past year, which helps streamline communications and better track animal populations and shelter demands in real time.
County Portal Category
1st Place: Sacramento County, Calif. // www.saccounty.net
Average monthly unique visitors: 41,000
It’s no surprise that the Sacramento County portal, moved up three places from its 2014 ranking to take the top spot in this year’s competition – for starters, the portal is the county’s busiest public service center, offering more than 50 online services around the clock. More than 8,000 business license applications and building permits were filed online in 2014; and property taxes for more than 34,700 parcels were paid online through the e-PropTax application, with an additional 36,700 parcels using the system to print a payment stub and mail in payment. In 2014, the portal experienced more than 15 percent growth in online transactions, responding by expanding online services and implementing responsive design. The county also uses Web analytics and feedback from visitors to continuously improve the portal, and offers commonly requested data sets on its Open Data Portal, which saves the county more than $100,000 in labor costs to fulfill common information requests. Sacramento County has taken its dedication to open data a step further by launching a site dedicated solely to health data; Be Healthy Sacramento presents public data on such topics as child TV time, adults with diabetes, grocery store density and much more. Also of note is that Sacramento County is the first county in California to offer accessible election ballots, and the county contracts with expert IT vendors to regularly perform network penetration testing and harden security measures based on their findings.
2nd Place: Baltimore County, Md. // www.baltimorecountymd.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 226,000
After extensive user testing, Baltimore County optimized its portal for search so that users can easily find what they’re looking for. Also in the most recent redesign, the Baltimore County website, which receives more than 4.6 million visits per year, became fully responsive and revolves around a custom, Google-powered search. Many recent refinements aim to make life easier for citizens, improve business processes and reduce costs for the county. Of particular note are two apps, designed in-house, that let citizens locate and access county services online on a responsive map. First is Baltimore County’s Road Closures application, which not only promotes government transparency and communication, but also gives citizens critical information on road closures due to construction, accidents, weather and other hazards. The Police (from their squad cars) and Department of Public Works update the database regularly and results are displayed in real time. And through a joint initiative between the Office of Information Technology, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Healthy Coalition, the county launched the Walking Trails application, which promotes physical activity and lets users search for walking trails by park, facility, community or site name, ZIP code, or browse by geographic area.
3rd Place: Los Angeles County, Calif. // www.lacounty.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 276,000
When Los Angeles County built its new Web portal, which launched in November 2014, it did so with efficiency and economy in mind. The county moved to a customized content management system built by a contract Web team that has shown 90 percent cost savings year over year – and allows county communications professionals to update the site instantly from any device anywhere in the world. The new site features a tiled interface, responsive design and instant translation into 83 different languages. It also consists of just 150 Web pages, down from nearly 1,000. The portal also includes a custom emergency response notification system that scales up based on the size, scope and severity of an incident. The site’s custom search engine evolves and learns based on residents’ queries and searches, and also allows Web managers to manually elevate certain search results depending on the issue of the moment. What may be the most utilized feature of the new site, however, is live chat, where residents can instantly connect with a county employee who can answer their inquiries during business hours.
4th Place: Bexar County, Texas // www.bexar.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 310,000
Since implementing responsive design, an eDiscovery tool where attorneys can review and download discoverable evidence from cases handled by the District Attorney’s Office, and a platform where users can watch Commissioners' Court sessions live or previously recorded, the Bexar County website has seen a 15 to 20 percent bump in traffic. In other moves toward openness and transparency, the county gives constituents access to categorized yearly adopted budgets, annual financial reports, claims registers and monthly financial reports. Citizens also can submit open record requests within the portal, where they can track the status. On the back end, the county has transitioned a large portion of its departmental websites into a content management system so each department can independently manage its own material and public outreach. The county also closely monitors its users’ personally identifiable information to include simple identifiers to safeguard the public and staff. Of particular note is Bexar County’s exploration of Augmented Reality (AR). The BexarCountyAR mobile app lets users point their smart device camera at designated images, representative of a service or department, to access related useful information. Users can interact with the floating digital image and may be directed to specific websites or display information on demand. The county’s ultimate goal with AR is to incorporate it into future learning centers, digital libraries and websites.
5th Place: County of San Diego, Calif. // www.sdcounty.ca.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 550,000
San Diego County, Calif., underwent some major changes in the past year, including updating to a website fully optimized for mobile in which user analytics motivated content priorities. An upgrade to its content management system lets individual departments keep their own content current, independent of central IT staff. Phase one of the county’s open data initiative has taken form in the SDCountyInFocus site, which offers financial data, health stats, public safety information and more. The County App Center features 13 downloadable apps, like the emergency app that proved an important resource during the May 2014 wildfires. The companion emergency site now has cost-efficient scalable server capacity to ensure it can handle dramatic upticks in activity during an emergency. The county has taken an interesting approach to in-site search, using the federal government’s DigitalGov Search tool, which allows greater control over search results and helpful data to drive continuous portal improvements.
Finalist: Alameda County, Calif. // www.acgov.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 472,000
The 1.5 million residents of Alameda County, Calif., have multiple paths to information: intuitive navigation and user-friendly top-10 lists backed by a robust search function. Built for an increasingly mobile constituency, the site is mobile-aware and also features six mobile apps available for download. Officials clearly prioritize citizen engagement, with a comprehensive social media presence integrated throughout the site and many other ways to connect. More than 200 data sets are available on the county’s open data site, and visitors are flocking to crime information, restaurant inspection data and voter precinct details. Alameda County is taking an active role in ensuring citizens are putting the information to use too: Four hackathons have been held to date. The county’s site also offers many self-service options for visitors, including online building permits; current contracting opportunities; inmate lookup; and birth, death and marriage certificates.
Finalist: Chesterfield County, Va. // www.chesterfield.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 181,000
Finalist Chesterfield County, Va., prides itself on the transparent nature of its website, earning it an A+ from the Sunshine Review two years in a row. Its Open Government site provides a one-stop shop of sorts for data it most associates with openness, including financial information, details on county permit activity and procurement data. Mobile-first, data-driven priorities have guided recent site updates, including a revamped menu structure and an overhaul of the Library Department’s html Web pages on the county’s .NET content management system. Residents can pay taxes, utility bills and court expenses online with confidence, given the measures used by the county to protect customer data. Tools include multiple firewalls, a custom authentication model and Secure Socket Layers (SSL), which secure transactions with https when customers submit personal information.
Finalist: Collin County, Texas // www.collincountytx.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 69,000
Finalist Collin County, Texas, simplified how users search for the county’s most sought-after data. County staff developed a single search function that lets users query stand-alone databases for active warrants, court cases and current jail inmates. Information in these databases drives about 60 percent of the site’s overall traffic, according to the county. The innovative new service, launched in May, gives residents a one-stop method for accessing information across the county’s justice and public safety system. Users can search court cases ranging from traffic tickets and evictions to criminal misdemeanors and felonies. Cases also can be tied to existing warrants or inmates. The new service was part of a relaunch of Collin County’s portal this year, which also included a shift to responsive design.
Finalist: King County, Wash. // www.kingcounty.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 935,000
Finalist King County, Wash., used its GovDelivery enterprise email client to redesign how it engages with local news media. Instead of sending traditional news releases to media outlets, the county created a template for shorter releases that are emailed to reporters. The releases include a link to a full story posted on the county website. The GovDelivery platform tracks when a reporter opens the email message and clicks back to the full story. These statistics are used to understand which types of content are opened by specific reporters, enabling the county to target news releases to the reporters most likely to be interested in them. County officials say the new process improves its relationships with news outlets and ultimately provides better information to residents.
Finalist: County of Maui, Hawaii // www.co.maui.hi.us
Average monthly unique visitors: 101,000
Finalist Maui County, Hawaii, offers citizens a wide variety of online services and alerts. Users may register vehicles, pay property taxes, apply for jobs, and apply for and track building permits though the site. GIS mapping lets building permit applicants determine zoning, notification and other requirements. The county recently deployed SeeClickFix for non-emergency citizen service requests. The new service, known as COM (County of Maui) Connect, lets residents report neighborhood concerns and problems using a free app that’s available for Android and iPhone. Users also may sign up for free email or text alerts on an array of topics ranging from emergency events and road closures to job openings and bid opportunities.
Finalist: Travis County, Texas // www.traviscountytx.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 639,000
Finalist Travis County, Texas, launched its new mobile-friendly website in December 2014. The site was built in-house using the open-source Joomla! platform, and responsive design ensures that it accommodates smartphone and tablet users that now make up half of site traffic. County officials say the shift to open source technology provides both ease of use and low operating costs. During the redesign, the county created a uniform information architecture for more than 60 departments. Interactive maps provide the location of county offices, parks and other facilities. The county also offers a growing volume of open data, including 30 open data applications and a collection of downloadable data sets.
1st Place: City of Independence, Mo. // www.independencemo.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 85,000
This year’s best city portal belongs to Independence, Mo., population 117,000. Its engaged residents increasingly use the site to access restaurant inspection and code enforcement data, as well as apply for city permits and licenses. Thirty percent of utility payments are made online, contributing to the city’s impressive $38 million in annual online transactions. Independence’s in-house design team, responsible for all site development, also created the Citizen Action Center, featuring more than 50 ways for residents to interact with the city. Requests are routed right to responsible employees, and requestors can track the progress of their issues online. In addition, judges were impressed by Independence’s single sign-on function, myIndependence, which streamlines citizen-government interactions and includes a dashboard with a personalized, comprehensive, at-a-glance view of current requests, utility accounts, city council information and details on projects underway in their area. The site’s sleek design is also mobile-aware, with many considerations made to maximize accessibility across platforms and assistive devices. City staff work to keep citizen data secure, satisfying PCI standards and encrypting all pages containing personal information.
2nd Place: Louisville, Ky. // www.louisvilleky.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 229,000
The city describes the November 2014 relaunch of Louisvilleky.gov as a complete overhaul, and one of its key considerations was accommodating its mobile traffic — which is nearly 50 percent of site visitors. Built with responsive design on open source platform Drupal, a key feature is the “toolbox,” which gives site visitors three ways to access services: by department, by category or using search (relying on the Google search appliance). The MyLouisville tool on the home page pinpoints nearby government services and locations based on address, while more than 100 online forms are now available on the site, many of which also have embedded payment options. Available data sets on the Louisville open data site total more than 150, with more than 100 more scheduled to be added. The city’s efforts have attracted more than 140,000 subscribers to its e-newsletter system, run by GovDelivery.
3rd Place: City of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. // www.fortlauderdale.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 105,000
Fort Lauderdale’s updated site features a modern look and feel, increased opportunities for engagement and improved navigation. The responsive portal is maintained by staff throughout the organization using their content management system. Like so many effective government websites, Fort Lauderdale offers multiple paths to services and information that don’t require citizens to know which city department is responsible for providing it. Effective social media integration with a number of platforms, including NextDoor, can also be found sitewide. A community engagement forum, We Build Community, invites feedback on the city’s goal to make Ft. Lauderdale “The City You Never Want to Leave,” while a financial transparency portal offers everything from big-picture views to program-level detail on the city’s revenues and expenses. In another innovative transparency play, officials use the internally developed Ethics Trac mobile app to log details about meetings with lobbyists. The information is then published online. An expanded customer service portal, called Lauderserv, lets residents submit service requests and track their progress.
4th Place: City of Boulder, Colo. // bouldercolorado.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 622,000
Boulder's award-winning, responsive portal relies heavily on open source technology, resulting in significant savings for taxpayers. For example, a recently deployed open source search engine, Elasticsearch, brought estimated savings of $100,000 in system costs, while open source platform software saves $70,000 annually. The in-house Web team uses a custom programmed content management system that integrates easily with APIs, and Boulder plans to share its feature-rich functionality with other interested cities. An enterprisewide customer relationship management system, Inquire Boulder, is available online and as a mobile app, allowing residents to submit questions and service requests with GPS coordinates and photos. An online records archive provides searchable access to City Council, Elections and Boards and Commissions documents, saving staff time in responding to records requests. The city of Boulder has also demonstrated its leadership in security by encrypting its website using the secure protocol https – one of the first local governments to do so, according to the city.
5th Place: City of Sacramento, Calif. // http://portal.cityofsacramento.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 121,000
Sacramento’s fifth-ranked portal offers users a good blend of innovation and functionality – and it's pleasing to navigate with attractive visuals and well designed drop-down mega menus. Users can access more than 60 open data sets, including downloadable information on building permits, the city budget and crime activity. More than 900 bicycles have been registered using the city’s Bicycle Registration Portal, which was launched in 2013. Registration makes it easier for police to return stolen bikes and identify injured riders, city officials say. Last year, the city added a new feature that lets residents purchase or renew pet licenses online. Sacramento also is training all of its Web content editors to comply with federal accessibility guidelines; more than 130 editors have been trained so far.
Finalist: City of Fullerton, Calif. // www.cityoffullerton.com
Average monthly unique visitors: 60,000
Finalist Fullerton, Calif., unveiled an attractive new website earlier this year that features scrolling transparent tiles and helpful icons. Responsive design supports both desktop and mobile device users, and Twitter and Facebook have been integrated throughout the site. Standard design templates provide consistent appearance and navigation across the site. Online transactions use SSL encryption for security. Metatags on all pages, stories and documents improve searchability.
Finalist: City of Irving, Texas // www.cityofirving.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 68,000
Finalist Irving, Texas, moved to a new responsive design Web platform hosted by CivicPlus late last year. The new site offers online bill pay, fillable forms and alerts, along with a wide array of city information. Sub-sites were created for high-traffic departments like police, library, and parks and recreation, which offer department-specific navigation menus and distinctive design features. Google translate enables the site to be translated into an array of different languages. City officials say the shift to the hosted Web platform and CMS will generate significant savings. Officials also credit the integration of Web content into city social media pages for bumping up Irving’s Twitter followers by 17 percent and Facebook followers by 16 percent since the redesign.
Finalist: City of Los Angeles, Calif. // www.lacity.org
Average monthly unique visitors: 236,000
In February, finalist Los Angeles moved its LAcity.org portal to the Drupal open source content management system hosted in the Acquia cloud. The new site, which consolidates content from 60 departments and elected officials, loads 60 percent faster than the site it replaced and is dramatically cheaper to operate, according to the city. The site also uses responsive design to support mobile users. Information is displayed based on user analytics, and content is updated automatically through the use of Web services and custom feeds. A Council Votes Live page tracks items being reviewed by the Los Angeles City Council and provides live voting information. Other new services include a bus locator that provides real-time arrival information and sends users a text notification when a bus nears their stop, and a flight status feature that offers real-time arrival data for flights at Los Angeles International Airport.
Finalist: City of Raleigh, N.C. // http://raleighnc.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 198,000
Finalist: City of Riverside, Calif. // www.riversideca.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 189,000
Though the Web portal for Riverside, Calif., is considered text-heavy when many governments are opting for photo-rich portals instead, this year’s Best of the Web judges did note that Riverside’s site is easy to read and navigate. And visitors to the city’s portal quickly notice its many offerings: a large amount of data and online services, a variety of content types, collaborative tools, real-time open data sets and mobile apps. A particular favorite among the city’s apps is Riverside Tour Guide, which gives users information about statues located in the downtown area. Using geofencing technology, photos, audio and text are pushed to users when they come within close range of a statue. Also of note is EngageRiverside.com, the city’s transparency portal, which organizes open records, financial information, maps and open data. A recent upgrade of this site also included an overhaul of the Office of Economic Development website, which focuses on industry, incentives and resources for new businesses.
Finalist: Town of West Hartford, Conn. // www.westhartfordct.gov
Average monthly unique visitors: 40,000
In March, West Hartford, Conn., launched a reworked and responsive website that is powered by a content management system officials can use to regularly create and distribute new content to the community. Key features of this revamped portal include: cross browser compatibility, custom Google search integration, bulk waste permit form with payment integration, and an events calendar placed prominently on the homepage to encourage community engagement. Integrated with the new calendar is automated dual posting to Facebook and Twitter, which also is set up for press release postings. In addition, officials also launched MyWH, where residents can create an account and customize the website to their liking.
2015 Digital Government Achievement Award Winners
Bexar County, Texas - Criminal District Attorney's eDiscovery System Helping Delawareans Make Their Business First Steps Kentucky Business One Stop Portal New Zealand - Business.govt.nz’s Compliance Matters Tool for Small Businesses Locate.utah.gov Utah's Economic Development Map Category: Government-to-citizen, local government
Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Calif. - Talking Transportation: Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan Online Engagement Tool Lackawanna County, Pa. - Wireless Initiative Miami-Dade County, Fla. - Property Search with Responsive Design, Quick and Mobile Access Philadelphia, Pa. - Re-Imagining City CRM with Philly 311 County of San Diego - Online Home Owners Exemption (HOX) Category: Government-to-citizen, state government
California Department of Health Care Services - Welltopia: A New Website for Californians Indiana Unified Carrier Registration System Ohio Treasurer's Office - OhioCheckbook.com Pennsylvania’s Online Automated Child Abuse History Clearance Application RI Unified Health Infrastructure Project (RI UHIP) YourTexasBenefits.com - Health and Human Service’s Self-Service Solution Category: Government-to-government
California Highway Patrol - Sharing a Statewide Computer Aided Dispatch System Iowa Property Tax Reform through “The LocalGovExchange” Web Portal Los Angeles County Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Client and Asset Management System NYC Department of Finance - Citywide Payments and Receivable Services U.S. Government Publishing Office and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts - Increased Access to Federal Court Opinions Utah Public Notice Website Social Media Integration Category: Government internal
Arkansas Automated Online Filing System Helps Auditor Process 354 Percent More Claims Hillsborough County, Fla. - Property Appraiser Desktop Review Process City of Jacksonville, Fla. - Comprehensive Performance Management Montana Safety Assessment Management Helping People Protect Kids Category: Driving Digital Government, local government
Arlington, Mass. - Visual Budget Atlanta, Ga. - www.atl311.com: The City's Smart Portal Gilbert, Ariz. - Students Participate in App Resources and Knowledge (SPARK) App League San Diego County Water Authority Dashboard of Key Indicators Category: Driving Digital Government, state government
Arkansas Vehicle Registration Renewal iPad Kiosks Dramatically Reduce DMV Wait Time California State Controllers’ Office - ByTheNumbers (BTN) Open Data Project Indiana Management and Performance Hub Category: Driving Digital Government, federal government
U.S. Department of Transportation - Motor Carriers Using the Pre-Employment Screening Program Improve Safety