Government Experience Awards 2022: Bringing Government to the People
In the sixth annual Government Experience Awards, winning jurisdictions made it easier than ever for constituents to access services online in ways that are streamlined, intuitive and accessible for all.
The sixth annual Government Experience Awards this year honored jurisdictions that raised the bar on their digital platforms, revamping and strengthening the way citizens interact during an era when timely governmental information has never been more critical.
From providing key information on COVID-19 testing and vaccines to administering public assistance programs, jurisdictions throughout the United States are communicating with their constituents as never before. Subsequently, many states, counties and cities are taking a hard look at their digital footprints to study how best to reach their constituents.
For six years, the Center for Digital Government* has acknowledged standout efforts in strengthening citizen outreach and raising the bar on service delivery. This year’s winners worked to simplify users’ online experiences and, in some cases, created one-stop portals for services. The result is a better engaged citizenry and a more responsive government.
MARYLAND — FIRST PLACE IN THE STATE CATEGORY
Maryland OneStop is a multi-year initiative of the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT). The endeavor has grown to include 19 state agencies and over 1 million user accounts. Still evolving, the portal provides Maryland residents and other visitors to the site with vital information on state-issued licenses, permits and other critical services. Over 500 government forms are available on the site. OneStop also has served as a key platform in administering pandemic assistance such as those offered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Many of Maryland’s departments have enhanced their online portals to streamline services and put more power into the hands of the residents. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) developed an online portal to provide easier access to people applying for aid through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Michael Leahy, secretary for information technology for Maryland, said improvements made to the state’s digital services were designed with an eye to serving citizens who are not necessarily tech savvy.
“In looking at all of the whiz-bang tech and shiny objects available to us, we made sure we utilized those tools that actually meet the expectations and needs of the citizens and residents of the state,” Leahy said. “We wanted to make sure that whatever we created could be used by folks with little technology experience.”
He added that tech teams worked to standardize the look and feel of departments’ websites so “as people used these tools and mastered them, it would become easier because they would develop a routine and understand the methodology.”
“My hope is that citizens find a neat way to use them that we didn’t even think of,” Leahy added.
He explained that most participants with information on their OneStop portal are Maryland state departments. However, Howard County has uploaded its land use regulations to OneStop for citizens to find. Leahy hopes that more jurisdictions will follow.
He added that he believes the “element that makes or breaks their digital efforts” is privacy.
“We have to find a way to make sure that citizens know that the state is making a significant effort to maintain the privacy and the security of the information they choose to share with us.”
CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — FIRST PLACE IN THE COUNTY CATEGORY
Cabarrus County, N.C., refreshed its county website with a strong “focus on the constituent,” explained CIO Todd Shanley.
“So many times, as IT professionals we get into the cool tags and widgets,” Shanley said. “Here we took the time to think about the constituent experience. … We prioritized things that our constituents are coming to us for.”
Looking deeply at user experience required looking deeply at the language used on the site, he added. For instance, if a user is visiting the county site to find leisure activities, it is best to use words that best describe the activities, rather than the department.
“When you go to the website you find ‘activities’ and ‘recreation,’ rather than ‘senior center’ and ‘parks,’” he explained.
The web redesign through OpenCities provides online engagement spaces, discussion boards and surveys that allow public engagement in county initiatives and provide feedback to county officials on user experiences. The county also stood up a GIS portal and offered more open data in an open data portal.
“We were one of the first in the country to put GIS online,” Shanley said.
A My Area map allows constituents to look for events and services around them.
Shanley added that his team made sure the site was accessible and ADA compliant by “making sure we have the right tags on images and sites are readable by screen readers so anybody and everybody can access it.”
The site also is available in Spanish and Chinese, languages used frequently in the county. Chatbots also are used to assist with visitor navigation.
The site also prioritizes six calls to action. The six priorities change throughout the year depending on the top services used by citizens at that time.
“It changes at different times of the year depending on which different activities are going on,” Shanley explained. “For instance, as we get near elections, elections will pop up into the six.”
He added that officials wanted to make sure the content on the site is updated as needed, so they designed it to be editable by different departments.
“A single webmaster wasn’t realistic,” he said. “As soon as departments know a change needs to made, they can do it.”
Shanley explained that the refresh wasn’t just a typical tech project for the county. It was a revisioning of service delivery.
“We had people from all across the county’s individual departments working on it,” he said. “To get that buy-in it had to be a team and countywide approach. And I am really proud of the team that came together to produce this outcome.”
LOUISVILLE, KY. — FIRST PLACE IN THE CITY CATEGORY
From free outdoor Wi-Fi to an online recycling coach and interactive maps, Louisville, Ky., has enhanced its citizens’ digital experience.
“Over the past year the city of Louisville has worked hard to increase our digital offerings, from improvements to our city website to the many digital platforms we now provide,” says Chris Seidt, director of Louisville Metro Government's Office of Civic Innovation and Technology. “We’re especially focused on auto-notification systems, such as our e-newsletter system, 311 reporting system and the many improvements we’ve made with Accela to make it easier to do business with the city for permits, licenses and applications.”
Seidt adds that the city recently redesigned its open data portal, data.louisvilleky.gov, migrating it to an open, Esri-supported site “that has improved access to spatial and tabular data in one platform.”
Louisville citizens’ experience of city services has improved over the last 10 years, Seidt added, due to “our focus on and promotion of the city’s website, the public adoption of our e-newsletter system in GovDelivery with over 300,000 subscribers, and the improvements we’ve made to auto-notification services.”
“Our Recycle Coach app and online tools have made it easier for constituents to sign up for sanitation services and get notified via email or text. Our 311 app has made it easy to report issues on the go,” he said. “And we’ve recently launched a better way for business to log in and acquire permits, licenses and applications via Accela. The next phase of digital services for Louisville will be working to redesign and launch a completely new website featuring improved accessibility.” The city already has taken strides in increasing the accessibility of the site and bolstering the transparency of city data.
“With more than 100 languages spoken in Louisville and 35 percent of the city’s population growth over the past 19 years coming from international residents from over 150 different countries, Louisville is culturally diverse and an award-winning city of compassion,” Seidt said. “That’s why our focus over the past year has been on the city’s website, where we’ve added the ability to translate our site into 103 different languages, and we’ve added the UserWay accessibility tool to every page. Our new open data portal is also a major improvement in transparency.”
The city also added helpful chat boxes to its site, as well as increased its focus on mobile users and omni-channel.
For a complete list of this year’s winners and finalists, click here.
The Future Ready Awards honor jurisdictions that have revamped their technology to prepare for an uncertain future. The awards celebrate the changes, innovation, collaboration and foresight to leverage technology to meet the challenges of emerging problems.
Future Ready Award Winners
At the city level, Virginia Beach, Va., is honored this year for envisioning and providing initial funding for the StormSense project, which uses water-level sensors to track the changes in streams over different seasons and weather events such as hurricanes and nor’easters. StormSense began as a smart city project collaboration with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary, the cities of Norfolk and Newport News, and other municipalities in the Hampton Roads area. StormSense helps officials prepare for possible flooding and road closures. In the long term, the data also increases computers’ ability to provide predictive forecasting. The project provides critical data for engineers in public works and public utilities in real time through a mobile-friendly website.
On the county level, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s (RR/CC) Office is honored for piloting an Internet of Things (IoT) program with AT&T to increase the visibility of ballot boxes movement during elections. The team affixed geotracking-enabled Smart Labels to ballot boxes. Tech leaders then created a geofence around vote centers and tally operations centers to pinpoint the location of each ballot box. An alert was triggered if a Smart Label was removed or left the geofence area. This allowed officials to virtually track the ballot boxes, thereby helping to ensure their integrity. The project was initially tested during a small election in October 2021. Since then, RR/CC has launched a full implementation of the program.
Among states, Hawaii launched its Hawaii Safe Travels platform to meet the challenges of keeping people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Safe Travels platform was a one-stop online platform where visitors from anywhere in the world registered to visit Hawaii, detailing their vaccination status and COVID-19 test results. The goal of the program was to encourage tourism, while also protecting the health of citizens. Travelers filled out an online application, providing a verifiable phone number, email, flight information and address while in the state. They were then sent a QR code that allowed them to share their information with officials upon entry. Travelers who uploaded valid PCR tests or vaccination cards were ruled exempt from quarantine. If not exempt, the QR code would indicate when their quarantine would end. The QR code also was checked by rental car agencies, hotels and other attractions to verify that a visitor was not under quarantine. Quarantined travelers were sent an automated text and email every day reminding them to check in with officials on each day of quarantine. Those who did not check in were given safety checks by law enforcement.
By the end of March 2022, when the program concluded, Safe Travels had recorded about 12 million trips and granted 11.5 million exemptions from quarantine. Even with the return of large numbers of tourists, Hawaii maintained the lowest COVID-19 case counts per capita and lowest death rates of any state. The pilot phase was completed in August 2020 and all travelers were included by September 2020.
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.