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Minnesota County Uses Redesigned Website to Involve Citizens

Stearns County encourages interaction and feedback from residents.

George McClure has served as the information services director for Stearns County, Minn., since 1995. McClure oversaw the redesign of the county’s website, which won a Best of the Web award from the Center of Digital Government in 2011. Government Technology spoke with McClure  about how the redesigned website is creating a better user experience for county residents.

What has made Stearns County’s website a success?

We worked hard to make sure we had a really good user experience, which means easy-to-follow navigation. We talked with our citizens. We had some focus groups give us feedback before we redesigned our website. We laid it out in a topic-based navigation. We used the analogy: It’s kind of like finding items in the aisle at the grocery store. We grouped all like items together so things are easy to find.

What website feature are you proudest of?

What I’m most proud of is probably the community focus of our website. We worked really hard to involve the community, to reach out, to get interaction and feedback from our citizens and to encourage them to participate in their local government. We encouraged our citizens to be part of the problem-solving process with us. For example, we’re looking at zoning for wind farms. We really encourage interaction on our website to get citizens’ opinions. We try to get feedback from our citizens before public meetings so we can listen to their feedback before we make those decisions.

What have been the most effective ways that citizens have been interacting through the website?

Right now it’s probably still a bit of the old-fashioned ways through polls and surveys. We have blogs on our site where citizens can comment and interact. Soon citizens will be able to provide commenting on most of our public meeting agendas. And citizens can also comment and rate a lot of the content on our site.

What trend are you watching and how will it affect your site?

It’s important that websites can support multiple devices. It’s not just the browser interface anymore. There are a lot of other types of devices, so we still have to be able to, of course, support PCs and different screen sizes: laptops, desktops and so forth. But mobile computing is huge. It seems like everybody has a mobile device and they want to access websites with it.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.