Nanaimo Online is perhaps the most advanced municipal Web site in Canada, taking that community one step closer

to a 24-hour city hall.

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SOLUTION SUMMARY

PROBLEM/SITUATION: City Hall IS planners identified a need to provide better public access to government and community information.

SOLUTION: Civic employees and community members jointly launched "Nanaimo Online," an information service accessible via the Internet.

JURISDICTION: Nanaimo, British Columbia.

USER CONTACT: Per Kristensen, manager, Information Systems, 604/755-4418. Web page:

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By George Collicott

Special to Government Technology

In November 1993, a new administration rode to power in the booming Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo on the familiar election promise of open government. Doomsayers, who predicted that the new leadership would fall short of its goal, could be forgiven because they hadn't reckoned on the computer-savvy new mayor, Gary Korpan.

Soon after taking the reins, Korpan made it clear that he would support and participate in the Information Systems (IS) Department's idea to put city information online for the benefit of its 70,000 residents.

IS Department Manager Per Kristensen said that "the idea just kind of took off from there. It was decided that the larger community should be invited to participate and tell us what community information they'd like to make available."

In June 1994, the city launched a call for community volunteers interested in partnering with City Hall to create their own information service. All ideas were welcomed, but there was one important caveat -- there could be no costs attached. The entire project would have to be done with a budget of virtually zero.

The result of this partnership is Nanaimo Online, a registered association with a mandate to provide community information to the public. It is perhaps the most advanced municipal web site in Canada and an interesting model for other cities to contemplate.

GREATER POTENTIAL

"We were initially thinking in terms of a simple bulletin board service, but we quickly realized that the Internet offered far greater potential with no great cost increase," recalled Kristensen. "Luckily, the technology was already available to us."

The Nanaimo School Board was providing its 58 schools with a bulletin board service as well as an Internet connection so that students could do research. The general public was also using the service during non-school hours. Nanaimo Online was able to piggyback on this system, which has since been upgraded from 12 dial-up modems to 36 modems, all of them running at 14,400 baud.

Anyone can access the service via one of Nanaimo's local Internet providers for as little as $1 (Canadian) per hour. It provides e-mail access and a wide range of information not only to its citizens, but to the entire world. During July 1995, for example, the city recorded 2,400 inquiries. At least 30 percent of the hits were international net surfers, including Japanese, Germans and Austrians gathering tourist information.

The remaining inquiries came from locals interested in all types of information related to community activities, city by-laws, plans, departments and directories, and last but not least, meeting schedules, agendas and minutes of the City Council.

"That has been a real hit -- just unbelievable," said Kristensen. "If we don't get the meeting minutes up each week ... we know we're going to get calls from irate citizens demanding to know where they are."

ENVISIONING THE FUTURE

Kristensen envisions a near future when citizens can use the Internet to directly query City Hall regarding such matters as outstanding taxes, user rates for particular services, what their next utility bill will be or when the next garbage pickup will be.

"Once we can do that we eliminate a lot of very routine phone calls,"