In my quest to narrow the digital divide and increase civic engagement, I am passionate about the plethora of available opportunities and wonderful initiatives at the intersection of social media and government. While great stuff is being done in federal and state circles, bureaucracies have limits–aging infrastructure, outdated policies, and breadth of scale–that prevent change. It’s unfortunate but a necessary dogma in today’s political landscape–especially on the federal and state levels–that departments and agencies operate as silos.
Wouldn’t it be something if I could visit one government website to cater to all of my needs at once? Imagine visiting a revised WhiteHouse.gov that included not merely links and information about press releases, assorted biographies, and historical briefs–but tax forms without the need to separately visit IRS.gov or stormwater discharge reports without visiting the EPA. Moreover, imagine the website was built–literally–to exist in my web browser without the need to scroll. None of three above examples are configured that way yet.
Part of the problem is everyone follows everyone else. Because federal websites are busy with links and data and insist on vertical scroll bars to pack everything into one page, is it really surprising that the homepages of the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston follow suit?
Note: All images on this page can be clicked for a zoomed-in display.
See how busy those pages are? Here are some more examples:
Like Boston, the website for my hometown of Newburyport is equally busy–or is it sparse?
Here’s Somerville, north of Boston and where I used to live:
I attended college in Worcester, west of Boston. (Don’t mind the abbreviation here; it’s really much longer but has some sort of framing problem when I tried to grab the whole page):
Finally, I share with you Canton, where I attended high school. The website is much shorter, vertically, but no less busy. It also lacks focus. Have a look:
What if a government homepage could be simpler–and fun?
With more municipal employees in the United States than the combined workforce of the 50 states and the federal government, it’s always breathtaking for me when I stumble upon a community that is embracing creativity, grasps the point of social media, and does it right.
Case in point: Navasota
I love this! In comparison to the other screen shots I’ve shared with you, don’t you, too?
It’s very clear which tab to click on, and you’re presented with more than enough (intuitive) drop down links with each selection. There’s a big calendar for events, news updates, and how about that large picture that is on a rotation basis with other shining perspectives on the 6,700 population Texas community?
The social media element is perhaps what I love best of all. With large fonts and big icons, it’s obvious that municipal leaders want you to know in no uncertain terms they want to be emailed and called, they want you to view photos, read meeting minutes, and engage with them on Facebook and Twitter.
Powered by CivicPlus, I was curious how much money was spent on the Navasota website. With two clicks of my mouse, I opened the city budget (here’s the PDF) and found approved general administration line item 583-323 at $2,500. Add in other website line items for other city departments, and there’s my bet for the upkeep and maintenance cost. Maybe the CivicPlus contract was factored in, too, or is part of a different line item.
The Navasota website is clean, green, and wants to be seen. I found the budget by mousing over the city departments tab and clicking “Finance.” By contrast, try to find the budget on Boston’s website. I dare you. I’ll give you 10 seconds, the amount of time it took me to find Navasota‘s. I clicked to the Boston mayor’s page; nothing overt. Let me know if you fare differently and how many clicks it takes, not to mention if you can search for “website.”
I challenge you to follow Navasota into social media. If they’re not a primer for any government bureaucracy to emulate as a means of public engagement with citizenry, business owners, and voters, then please tell me who is.