The City of Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind., in April announced a massive two-year overhaul of the Indy.gov website, an initiative dubbed “Shift Indy.” The team has been working at breakneck speed to get the pilot site up and running, with more than four city and county government services already live on the pilot site.
Indianapolis CIO Ken Clark spoke with 21st Century State & Local about the Shift Indy revamp and how other cities can improve their digital presence.
21st Century State & Local: Why did your team decide to undertake this digital revamp?
Ken Clark: It was the perfect alignment in terms of timing and our vision for the future of Indianapolis. When I took on the role of CIO last year, we had a new mayor’s administration coming in at the same time. Mayor [Joe] Hogsett’s administration asked if we could re-skin the current website with something new. I asked Mayor Hogsett’s administration, “Why do that?” I said, “Why put your face on old technology instead of creating a whole new site.” They were on board with that. It’s really easy to re-skin a website and make it look like a new administration with new branding, but why put your brand on technology you don’t believe is effective.
21C: What was the process for deciding what changes to make and what services to offer online?
KC: There are two pieces. Internally, we met with every agency, department, and elected official to discuss what they wanted to achieve with the new website. They meet with constituents more frequently than we do, so we really respect their feedback. Out of that group, we set up an internal steering committee. We sit together on a monthly basis to see where we are with the project. We put together a set of guiding principles to decide what would happen and what would come first:
- Automates manual processes & eliminates visits to the City-County Building.
- Saves city/county agencies, departments and employees’ time and achieves efficiencies.
- Saves constituents’ time and achieves efficiencies.
- Reduces barriers to access for underserved constituents.
- Generates revenue and contributes to fiscal solvency.
- High volume of transactions (i.e., Is this a service that sees a high number of transactions and should be prioritized?).
- Technology readiness and low complexity (i.e., Is the technology required for this service readily available, cost-efficient, etc.?).
According to Clark’s office, the general idea behind the guiding principles is that all features and services are ranked against these principles to assist in prioritization and provide a better picture of the work the steering committee is doing.
21C: You’ve prioritized community feedback in this process. How did you solicit the community’s thoughts and ideas?
KC: We felt that if we’re going to build something with taxpayer dollars, we want to make sure the community is engaged. We had a list of community partners we knew we wanted to meet with before building the new site. Myself and my staff met with these groups, and our vendor partners helped facilitate these meetings. We met with the local library, the Chamber of Commerce, and other local business groups. We were able to document their needs and requirements. In addition, early on we did three public community meetings out in the neighborhoods directly. We met with neighborhood groups on what they wanted to see, what they liked, and what they wanted. We plan on doing that every six months to get their feedback.
21C: This is projected to be a two-year project. Can you walk us through the timeline of when services and capabilities will be added?
KC: We have a pretty firm short-term timeline and the long-term timeline is fuzzier, and that’s by design. Over time things can change and we can adjust to what’s going on in the city.
21C: What are some of the capabilities you are currently working on?
KC: We are developing a way to submit crime tips online. We are also working on a few things with our county clerk to prepare for next year’s election cycle, including improving campaign finance reporting and making it easier for candidates to register online. We are also overhauling the search functionality on the site. It will be an intelligent search tool that can learn what you are really looking for, based on what you click on. We are using very plain language on the site–roughly a third- or fourth-grade reading level. So based on what people most frequently click, we will be able to adjust search results. We can also use this data to adjust what we call programs or documents to make it easier for citizens to find what they’re looking for.
21C: How about educating and informing residents about the new changes and offerings?
KC: Obviously social media is a big part of what we’re doing. We are also educating the mayor’s neighborhood advocates–they go to neighborhood meetings and connect directly with constituents–we are providing them with materials and information to take out to the community. We are also putting our press releases and working to replicate them with the mayor’s office. We have been working on building an initiative around this and making sure we are talking about this regularly. We have a big event in the city called Indiana Black Expo, and we actually took a tablet out and showed citizens the new services. We’ve done community meetings and I’m readily speaking to any group about the initiative that’s willing to listen. We made it a point to put neighborhood leaders and groups on our mailing list.
We’ve paid to have advertising built around the new initiative. We are looking to partner with our local transportation authority to put signage on buses and bus stops to show what’s going on and what new information is available on the website. As we launch new digital services, we have Post-it notes for government offices to use. When someone comes in to do a service they could do online, they get a Post-it note on their receipt saying, “Why wait in line, when you can go online?”
21C: What tips do you have for other cities looking to make similar overhauls?
KC: Buy-in from elected officials and department directors is huge, because these initiatives aren’t small. Having everyone from the politicians to the people who hold the purse strings on board is so important. Without everyone else working with the IT department we couldn’t do this. Having a real vision that’s well understood is also key.
All of this is owned by the community, so any time you take on these kinds of processes, you have to listen to what you’re hearing from these community groups. They have the pulse of what the community’s expectations are for new technology.