PROBLEM/SITUATION: The city of Cambridge, Mass., wanted to provide information and services to the community outside regular work hours.
SOLUTION: City officials developed a Web page that residents can access to obtain information and fill out forms without having to physically visit City Hall.
JURISDICTION: Cambridge, Mass.
VENDORS: Digital Equipment Corp., Continental Cablevision, BBN Planet, Apple Computer, MIT, Cisco Systems, Netscape.
CONTACT: Valerie Roman, MIS Director
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------In his inaugural address of 1801, Thomas Jefferson spoke of how a frugal government shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.
One hundred and ninety-five years later, that idea is still alive and flourishing at City Hall in Cambridge, Mass. Without using tax dollars, the city established a public Internet link between City Hall, local schools and the public library. Support for this project came almost entirely from local businesses and educational institutions in the greater Boston area.
The Internet project is the collective brainchild of the Cambridge City Council and departments headed by MIS Director Valerie Roman, City Manager Robert Healy, City Clerk Margaret Drury and Library Director Susan Flannery.
"We wanted to find a cost-effective manner of providing information and services to the community outside regular work hours," said Roman, adding that City Hall is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., five days a week. "We wanted to save people a trip to City Hall and make access to it more convenient for them."
The online City Hall project was not intended to cut personnel or time spent with citizens, but to increase City Hall services without increasing costs. Under the old system, filling out forms and applications required a trip to City Hall. Now, a resident can download and fill out forms on their own schedule. One example of this process is the release of voter information. A requestor can download Form CDP-7A, fill it out, and submit it to the Election Commission without ever going to City Hall.
The Cambridge project began in the fall of 1993, when steps were taken to develop a blueprint of what services an electronic City Hall should offer. All of the city departments were surveyed to determine exactly what the public was calling and asking about. "There were more than 40 departments and agencies. Numerous calls were being received by all of them," Roman noted.
As part of the development process, other public information systems like Hawaii FYI and Info California were scrutinized. The final solution chosen for City Hall was a Web site. To ensure easy access, city officials included a provision for public Internet access terminals in the city's public library.
Soon after, the city sent out a letter requesting grants for the project. The letter stated that city resources -- both people and funding -- were scarce, and grants were needed to support the project. The letter was sent to all prominent businesses and educational institutions involved with the Internet, inviting them to participate. "The response was overwhelming," Roman said.
The first feedback came from a public forum held during the spring of 1994. "The room we booked was completely full," noted Roman. Attendees from the academic community included both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Digital Equipment Corp.(DEC), Continental Cablevision, BBN Planet and Apple Computer came from the business community. The Chamber of Commerce and many parents also participated in the forum. The final specifications resulted from this forum.
In the summer of 1994, MIT offered the use of their Web server to host the new City Hall home page. "We used all their hardware and software," said Roman. The artificial intelligence lab group at