Philly, Residents Co-Create City Website

The city of Philadelphia has released a prototype of its next website that's hoped to be a collaborative effort with citizens.

The concept of a “minimum viable product” isn’t new, but in the realm of government IT, the approach might be considered revelatory.

It’s a technique the city of Philadelphia employed for the launch of its next website, unveiled in prototype on Dec. 23 as alpha.phila.gov. The project, which runs parallel to city’s official site at Phila.gov, is meant to be an iterative process, and guides construction and design by resident opinion and the city’s own experimental tinkering.

“This is a very new approach for us,” Adel Ebeid, Philly’s Chief Innovation Officer, told KYW Newsradio 1060. “Rather than making assumptions about what people want to see, and designing it behind closed doors, we’re actually designing it as we go along.”

Equally novel for government is the use of WordPress, a popular blogging platform with an open source content management system. The city's current content is designed in a WordPress-style theme it released on GitHub. Every two weeks, a new edition will refresh until Ebeid and his team of developers at Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Innovation and Technology deem it satisfactory as a replacement. Initial estimates place a finish line sometime in the spring.

At present, the site functions more like a portal, sifting visitors back to Phila.gov for features that require exchanges, such as payment of fines and bills, interaction with the Mayor’s Office and for job hunters looking for city employment.

What the site does deliver in its early stages is a taxonomy of pages dedicated to informational services. The categories touch business, health, licenses & permits, property, public safety, recreation, utilities and taxes. These are coupled with a section for city announcements and multiple trigger links to submit feedback.

In a tweet just three days after launch, Ebeid said the site had already gathered 2,200 page views.

> 2,200 page views and > 50 feedback comments since the launch of 1st prototype http://t.co/kyzFYfarRs Keep them coming #philadelphia — Adel Ebeid (@adelebeid) December 26, 2014

Ebeid likewise introduced his team of developers working on the project.

Meet the awesome team working to deliver http://t.co/kyzFYfarRs @kyleodum @atogle @karissademi @__majdoleen @gsf747 @timwis & Tammy Mulin — Adel Ebeid (@adelebeid) December 24, 2014

To submit feedback visitors can contribute with a survey submission and comments by clicking here.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.
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