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San Diego Overhauls Websites to Boost Access to Vital Services

Two recent department website redesigns — the San Diego Police Department and Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department — were aimed at improving the user experience and access to critical service information.

Keyboard image features ".gov" key where the enter/return key would be.
A screenshot of the Homelessness Strategies and Solutions services page.
Image courtesy of the City of San Diego (screenshot)
The city of San Diego has redesigned the Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department (HSSD) and the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) websites, both of which aim to make critical services easier for residents to find.

As state and local government agencies look to make digital services more inclusive and websites more user friendly, a big push is to make government websites simpler to use.

The city announced the launch of the HSSD website in July, just months after the April announcement of the SDPD site.

“I think both of these websites show how the city is really putting residents and their needs first,” stated Ashley Bailey, the city’s strategic communications officer. “Because police and homelessness, those are two topics where someone might be in crisis.”

As Bailey further explained, both websites may be used by people in crises or otherwise traumatic situations, and they can be supported in those situations by making the information they need available.

Both website redesigns were created through collaborative efforts between HSSD or SDPD and two other departments: the city’s Communications Department and Department of Information Technology Web Team.

An important measure of a successful government website is that visitation times are short, Ron Vazquez, the web services manager for San Diego explained. As he put it, if a visitor is spending 10-15 minutes on the website, it indicates that they are not able to find what they’re looking for in an efficient manner.

In the case of the SDPD website, a big part of the redesign centered on trimming excess information and making the product more service-oriented for visitors, Vazquez explained. Following the success of this effort, Bailey said the city applied a similar collaborative process for HSSD’s site, using lessons learned for a smoother workflow.

That workflow started with HSSD and ended with the web team. HSSD acted as the subject matter expert to provide the information that needed to be on the page. The information then went to the Communications Department, where staff would ensure that the information is digestible to the public who aren’t familiar with subject jargon. Finally, the web team handled the actual web development piece, making sure the site's content is easily scannable and mobile friendly.

Once the website content was designed, there was a back-and-forth, iterative process to make it as easy as possible for users to understand.

“I know for a fact that police ranking has improved since we launched the site,” Bailey said.

Both websites are service-oriented, meaning that information about the services available to residents is prioritized.

For the SDPD site, services are housed under one tab. Within the information about any of those available services, actionable items are put toward the top in a way that stands out from the supplemental information. So if a report needs to be made, that is clear to the user and easy to find.

In the case of the HSSD site, there are often multiple services offered within a broader service category, as shelters may offer things like mental health support, substance abuse support or job training.

Individuals looking for information about shelters often have questions about what is and isn’t allowed, Bailey said. For example, whether or not pets or partners are allowed and whether the programs serve the LGBTQ+ population or youth. Thinking about these commonly asked questions helped inform the content that would be included.

“We know that what [users] are looking for are the services offered, and where they are, and who you call,” Vazquez said. “So we just made sure to emphasize that type of information.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.