"Extreme"-ly dubious makeover

I'm having trouble getting excited about the fact that Chapel Hill won an "extreme web makeover" from a company in Kansas called Civic Plus. Just because it's free doesn't make it a good deal. Would you take a free makeover from Tammy Faye?

Based on their own website and on their portfolio, I don't really think Civic Plus has much to brag about in the design area. What's worse, this "prize" locks the town into a proprietary hosting and content management system. Will we be able to export this information in the future when we inevitably want to change change platforms?

I think a better long-term solution will be to host and manage the site with local expertise. There are only dozens of companies in the city limits (not to mention the Triangle area) that would be willing and able to do this work. So will we be able to move from Kansas to Chapel Hill gracefully, inexpensively, and on our own volition?

And at the forefront of my concerns is whether and how this company is going to promote e-democracy in Chapel Hill. While their template certainly offers Chapel Hill much better organization and usability than the current site, I don't see much interactivity of the type espoused by the Town's Technology Advisory Board. (See this PDF of their presentation for more info.) Note to Civic Plus: online polls and applications do not equal interactivity.

What features would you like to see on the Town web site? Do you think it's important enough that Chapel Hill should actually plunk down some money to get what we need, or should we take a freebie in this tight budget year and give up local control?

Issues: 

Total votes: 329

Comments

Does any one know if the Town of Chapel Hill has signed any contracts with the company Civic Plus?

Ruby, the link you provided does include at least a first pass at a wish list for a new website.

General Strategy

The website will provide an easily accessed, integrated, standards-based site. It will provide access to:

* all public meeting notices with agendas;
* all public documents distributed at meetings (in a format that stands the test of time);
* all proposed legislation and amendments available online simultaneously with public distribution;
* up-to-date listings of all public officials with the capability to interact online with such persons or parties;
* surveys/questionnaires to obtain citizenry/business input to issues of concern to the public at large;
* e-mail notifications about new government decisions and information based on individual interests and locations;
* forms, applications, and the like that are required to conduct business activities with Town departments and other Town entities.

While I see some of these needs being met on, for example, the Burlington Website, it would behoove the town to flesh out these desired functionalities, and make sure that CivicPlus's solution can meet our needs, either now or as can be upgraded in the future in a cost-effective and seamless manner. And, at the very least, and as you suggested, we should have a clear path to get our data and documents off CivicPlus's website and onto a new one down the road.

As long as we're not digging ourselves into a hole here, this is a cheap way to get a better website than we have. But I noticed that the freebies have limits. Only so many forms, and so many this and that. How much will this thing really cost us to get where we want? What do CivicPlus's clients think of their services?

I would expect the town to not jump into this without asking all of these questions and studying the answers carefully.

The CivicPlus contract is a 2-year commitment on the company's part, but does not require that the Town continue to use the website if we are able to get a new one designed and developed before the end of that contract. The Technology committee organized itself into three separate planning groups last year, web, infrastructure and GIS. The web group recommended that the first phase of new site development focus on developing an information architecture, including document control, metadata standards, archiving standards, etc. We also recommended a community-based needs assessment prior to any significant investment of time or resources into the current website. Our goal was to develop the infrastructure for a site that 1) meets the needs and expectations of citizens, 2) meets technical standards for accessibility, sustainability, and searchability, and 3) promotes the concepts of e-democracy (two-way interaction between town officials and citizens, archival history, e-commerce).

At the same time as we were developing this long range planning process, staff was being pressured to improve the functionality of the current website. Given the tight budget, it was highly unlikely that we would get the funding needed for the long-range planning of an information architecture as well as the graphics/programming expertise needed to convert the current awful site into something more current, useable, and useful. Thus CivicPlus.

I don't think this deal is quite as dire as the original description predicts. For one thing, the bulk of town (archival) documents will continue to reside on town-owned servers. We now have an honest-to-goodness web developer employed by the IT department who will be developing integration strategies between CivicPlus documents and Town server documents. The goal is to make the citizen experience between those two services seamless/transparent. He will also be working on strategies for making all Town database resources interoperable. Once he has those challenges underway, I would expect that we will begin working on e-commerce functionality. One thing should be very clear to everyone: no personal/private information on town residents or visitors, such as addresses, phone numbers, business IDS, etc., will reside on the CP website.

Is this a perfect solution? Nope. I have some concerns about how it will all work. But it gives the Tech committee time to do the basic planning needed to make the Town's website more technical solid and sustainable and also meets the staff's need to improve what we currently have.

What happened to the Tech committee's recommendation for "a community-based needs assessment prior to any significant investment of time or resources into the current website."?

That recommendation requires a consultant. The infrastructure committee also recommended a number of consultants so we'll have to negotiate which consultants take priority once the budget is in place.

My concern is that the town approached this as if it were a technology issue. That's a small part of it. Mainly, it's a content management issue. What's needed is someone who can coordinate town administration and resident needs, can write and edit, knows how people use web content, and knows enough of the tech stuff to work with the technical people (its the rare techie-type who can do all of this -- usually the job is better suited for a writer/editor type with experience on the web -- someone like, oh, me!). And, I agree with Ruby that there are numerous people and companies right here that could create and maintain a dynamic and amazing website for the town.

Debra--what you are suggesting is what the Tech Committee has suggested and what we are pursuing. The problem is that we couldn't do this as quickly as was needed to improve the current website. As I said before, this is an information archectecture and a design challenge. I use design in the broader context rather than the more common "appearance" usage.

We're also facing a archival challenge. The Town produces thousands (millions?) of pages of documents every year. Our goal is to keep documentation available and active so that citizens, the press, etc. can trace the historical evolution of community actions, budgets, etc. We cannot accomplish that if documents are treated as they currently are. It is simply not feasible to reformat every historical document everytime the website is redesigned. The document management system must be in place--linked to an archiving standard--before jumping into a full-scale local government web development project. From our review of other community websites, we believe most communities have not done this and will be facing huge expenses in the future or risk losing electronic access to historical documents (state standards mandate paper archives only).

On the other hand, there is a lot of citizen and staff frustration--right now--with the current website. To do the design/document/archiving aspect thoroughly is not going to happen quickly (it's not even funded yet) so we were not able to make the two faces of this problem align with one another. Thus CivicPlus.

Chapel Hill is simply behind on technology (not just the website). All the documents you currently found on the web were developed with FrontPage (non-standard HTML). Personally I don't think we want our official documents to be archived as HTML files, let alone Microsoft's unique interpretation of HTML. But we haven't had a Town webmaster until two weeks ago so everything we have has been created as additional work to someone's full time job.

In order to build a knowledge system that can withstand the test of time and technical advances, we have a huge task in front of us. I don't think anyone on the Tech Committee is happy with the CivicPlus solution, but we all need to recognize that it buys us a little time to get to a longer-term solution that not only helps us catch up, but might even possibly put us in a good position for the future.

I have to totally agree with Ruby...Just because it's free don't make it right.

We have plenty of brilliant tech folks that are local (wink wink nudge nudge say no more) that could do this and should probably be employed to do this...but then of course it wouldn't be free. Still though, the $$$ would stay in our community.

I haven't gone to the firm's website yet, but still, Kansas???

And since it is largely free, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

A few questions to those who are more well-informed about this situation than me regarding this situation:

If I understood the memorandum posted above, the goal is to create an accessible, standards-compliant, e-governance promoting system that can last the test of time. How is using Civic Plus for two years going to fulfill these goals? Granted, I haven't used their product, but based on a cursory glance at Burlinton's website, it doesn't seem to me that Civic Plus fulfills any of the goals listed on the site. Obviously, the existing website is a horrible mess, but I don't see Civic Plus providing much relief ... if anything wouldn't this cause more problems for the Town of Chapel Hill when they have to take into account the Civic Plus infrastructure when designing specifications for archival?

Given the vast talented pool of educated people in this area, wouldn't the best long-term cost solution be to develop the system from scratch around the archival specifications (these are probably the most important aspect of the whole project) and run everything from here? This way the TOCH wouldn't be dependent on Civic Plus (what's to ensure that they'll even be around for two years?)

Roy,

I don't think the C+ solution will put us any further behind than we are now. Developing the documentation/archival standards along with conducting the citizen forums on e-democracy services and features is estimated to take between 6-9 months to complete. Then we will have to reformat all archival files. Standards must be developed for text, financial, graphical and database files, so it's not going to be a simple process. For example, the Town has 3-4 separate payroll applications (databases). When we start looking into document standards, I'm pretty sure that certain applications will not be compatible and will have to be phased out. Our development process will have to account for that level of detail.

If what we were trying to accomplish was the creation of a plain old website, from scratch, I would be fighting the C+ deal tooth and nail. But given the complexity of the task in front of us, and our desire to do this right in order to achieve long term cost savings and accessibility, I think the C+ solution is an acceptable bridge from where we are now. I realize everyone would like us to jump into something significantly better than what we have, but the costs of doing that are much greater than our critics understand.

Letting C+ provide us (for free) a website that simply continues on with current practices doesn't put us any further behind. Plus it will allow us to use staff time (vs consultant) to make progress toward our goals. Also, please keep in mind that we are not obligated to use C+ for the full two years. If we have our document and service standards defined and ready to develop into a town-owned website in less than 2 years, we can make the switch at no penalty.

I won't deny that the C+ template is boring and unattractive. But it's cheap and it's better than what we have. In terms of features, we hope to supplement the C+ features with additional interactivity and hopefully e-commerce features while we are working on standards and archiving research. As I said above, we did not chose to accept those features of the C+ service due to our desire to ensure citizen/vendor/visitor security.

Funny how the Town of Chapel Hill is happy to license and tax local web developers for their commerce, but doesn't quite see the value of their work -- you get what you pay for.

Shop Orange First?

Which means, by the way, that if the town is even modestly intelligent about this, they will make sure that they have a contract that expressly states they own all the content and can pull the plug at any time, transferring whatever they develop elsewhere. If they don't there's a very unsatisfactory outcome in the future -- guaranteed.

Does anyone on this list read???????????????????? We didn't go shopping--they came to us and it's free. We aren't obligated to continue using them for the two years. We're keeping back up copies of all documents on our own servers which will continue to be available to the public.

Thank you Terri for shedding some light on the details of the Tech Committees work to bring the town into the 21st Century. This process, and I hope this discussion thread, is about ALLOT more than a simple website redesign.

Often when a path is taken by a organization they have hopes that in the future they can change course with dexterity. This rarely happens. Once the momentum is set it carries the group through to sometimes unwanted consequences. Trying to walk the group backwards is hard. This is why preplanning is so important. It's apparent that the Tech Committee understands this.

How will the staff and the community be retrained to use a new website in two years? How will we all use it effectively?

Will all the old website links go bad when we create a new site?

Is it to late for the Town to accept only some of Civic Plus's services, like html and graphic design, and not others like web hosting?

Wouldn't it be cool if we could talk about this town related stuff on the town website?

Retrained to use a website?

Yes, Terri, we all read, thank you very much. The fact that they approached the town (and not vice-versa) should give everyone pause, not be the basis for slapping down questioners.

When the town puts out anti-scam warnings to seniors, they usually caution that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Since this apparent windfall included the town's site being hosted through this provider, it means, probably, that the provider will control the domain. Respectfully, hosting service for a government entity should NOT be privately sponsored and most especially should NOT be privately sponsored without a contract or consideration. It's bad business practice, IMHO.

FYI, it's nonsense to say the FrontPage generates "non-standard" HTML. If you use the server extensions or pre-formatted "themes" you get a lot of garbage, but it's entirely possible (and easy) to design ordinary HTML pages with FrontPage that are indistinguishable from those written in Notepad.

Brian--In answer your other questions:
"How will the staff and the community be retrained to use a new website in two years? How will we all use it effectively?" That will be included in our plan. Hopefully, everything will be so transparent that no training for citizens will be needed.

"Will all the old website links go bad when we create a new site?" I don't think so (that's a staff decision). Part of the new staff web developer's job will be integrating the town's two current websites (www.townofchapelhill.org and townhall.townofchapelhill.org) with the C+ site.

"Is it to late for the Town to accept only some of Civic Plus's services, like html and graphic design, and not others like web hosting?" The town's websites are already hosted offsite since there is no backup generator at town hall. We haven't accepted all of C+'s services. Those we will be using are (incomplete):

1. Navigation & graphics design
2. Content management (with full backup onto town servers)
3. Staff training to use the CMS
4. Email notification system for certain features
5. Consolidation of numerous externally departmental sites
6. A few forms

Features we will not be using:
1. e-commerce (bill paying, permitting, etc.)
2. job applications (would put private info on external servers)

"Wouldn't it be cool if we could talk about this town related stuff on the town website?" The C+ contract doesn't have anything to do with our inability to do this. We are currently limited by staff time to set up forum applications and serve as an ombudsman/moderator. The tone of discourse that frequently takes place on OP would not be acceptable on a town-maintained forum. Moderation would be required.

Too bad the town blew all that money on and hand-wringing meeting about renaming Airport Road. This project would have been a much better use of that cash.

Here's the way to contact the Town staff about your concerns, like maybe the newly missing Minutes search capability.

Terri, I think people are reading the memo and extrapolating, based possibly on their business and technical experience, the "real" cost of the C+ proposal. Jean, Brian, Roy, Debra are reacting to the loss of opportunity costs, the integration costs, etc. Brian's pointed out a number of reasons to enter this agreement cautiously. I don't think their concerns are premature.

Here's C+'s portfolio.

Of note is their copyright

CivicPlus © 1997-2005 All rights reserved.

on their clients web sites and the apparent lack in most of their portfolio (and their own site) of a privacy policy.

BTW, Burlington, like several other of their sites, uses proprietary tech for their content. For instance, the following disclaimer on the us ability of their site:

Notice Specific to Documents Available on this Website

The City of Burlington Government makes no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. City of Burlington hereby disclaims all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall the City of Burlington Government be liable for any special, indirect, incidental or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or tort action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. The City of Burlington Government may make improvements and/or changes in the document(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.
Notice Regarding Software, Documents and Services Available on this Website.
In no event shall the City of Burlington Government be liable for any special, indirect, incidental or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or tort action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of software, documents, provision of or failure to provide services, or information available from this server.

Links to Third Party Sites

Some links contained within this site will let you leave Burlington's web site. The linked sites are not under the control of the City of Burlington Government and the City of Burlington is not responsible for the contents of any linked site or any link contained in a linked site. The City Burlington Government is providing these links to you only as a convenience, and the inclusion of any link does not imply endorsement by the City of City of Burlington Government of the site.

Disclosure

Any communication received by a council member or employee of the city, including e-mail, in connection with the transaction of public business is a public record subject to disclosure, unless the communication is deemed confidential by law.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE. This web site Copyright ゥ 2003 City of Burlington
425 South Lexington Avenue, Burlington, NC 27215
U.S.A. All rights reserved.
Any rights not expressly granted herein are reserved.

>Retrained to use a website?
Yes...Retrained.

More and more good websites are like desktop applications. They search for files, upload files, gather data, reorder data, etc., etc.

Do you remember a librarian showing you how to do a boolean search? That was a form of training.

While good user interface design can make website use more intuitive for all users, each and every person has to teach themselves where everything is on a site and how to use it effectively. We often do this with out even thinking about it. But it is work.

Having some help doing this could come in the form of training. FAQs and help pages are a form of self help. Trainer led introductions are another way.

All I'm saying with my question above is when you learn where everything is and then someone moves it it's a pain. You have to learn all over again where it is and how to find it. (This question is under the assumption that we *could* have a new website in two years or less.)

Terri wrote: "The tone of discourse that frequently takes place on OP would not be acceptable on a town-maintained forum. Moderation would be required."

Yah, uh ... what's that supposed to mean?

Yes, I guess I take your point Brian, but good design will be intuitive and feature good help screens. Since this is meant to be a citizen resource, those priorities will require good testing and frequent review.

Jean--it means that the town can't sponsor a forum that privileges one sector of the community over another. It has to create an environment in which liberals and conservatives can feel equally comfortable expressing their views or asking their questions. The town would be subject to liabilities/criticisms that an individual isn't subject to. The town can't say "Everything here is explicitly biased toward the authors' and editors' points of view."

For those interested, the town's Tech Committee has many other plans in addition to the web stuff. For example, some of us are dedicated to creating more public access to technology, through additional public computers spread out around town and municipal wireless. The Tech Comm is composed of incredibly well-qualified technology professionals, from private business, the university, and local government. Our biggest hurdles are negotiating town/government policies and procedures.

Roy, under Burlington's website "E-Services" menu, I find a number of the features in the town's wish list included in my previous post. Not all, but many.

All of these posts about "why not me?" or "why not my friend?" are not very compelling. If you or your friend want to do the same work at the same cost to the town over two years, meeting the same requirements, the town should consider it. But that would mean that either C+'s offer is a bait and switch, or you are very generous.

As long as the town takes the cautions (nicely summarized as "real costs') listed in these posts (and likely additional ones we have not considered) into account , we have every reason to pursue this.

Terri is too modest to point out that she's taken a lead in developing the guidelines and principles the Town should follow for our web portal. She's been a primary force in creating a coherent, inclusive strategy to improve open communications between Town and citizenry.

I hope her, her sub-committees and the whole Tech committee's "official" work will be published soon.

Sorry, Terri. That's baloney.

First, your comment referred to "tone" not equal access. The government doesn't regulate or ensure "tone" -- not yet.

Second, your assertion that town "has to create an environment in which liberals and conservatives can feel equally comfortable expressing their views or asking their questions." suggests a remarkable power (to ensure equal comfort levels). The town "has to" create (at most) a website whose information is accurate and understandable to citizens. Within that framework, it is entirely appropriate that the town offer a discussion forum (like this one) for citizens to convene in a marketplace of ideas and hash through them.

We live in a predominately progressive community, Terri. Most comments are going to have a liberal bent, for which none of us should apologize or temper our enthusiasm. We're "people of faith" too -- our faith lies in the first amendment -- the same one that protects free religious practice.

Orange Politics does offer guidelines which users commonly respect -- with certain exceptions, like demeaning questions about the literacy of fellow contributors. What the heck ... it's the Internet and anyone can get in.

The CivicPlus contract is a 2-year commitment on the company's part, but does not require that the Town continue to use the website if we are able to get a new one designed and developed before the end of that contract.

This sounds like we can't use any of the CivicPlus-developed pages/navigation/etc if we want a non-CivicPlus website after 2 years. Do we get to keep any of the website designed by CivicPlus at the end of the two year period? Does the contract give us unencumbered access to all text on the website, some of which may have been edited and copyrighted by CivicPlus? If we get to keep navigation, etc., does CivicPlus have clear ability to license any customized code that they depend on (ie - will they certify the originality of the code, etc.)? Are there clearly defined $ in the termination section of the contract if we want to continue to use their stuff? (note I am not a lawyer).

And just to make sure I understand, CivicPlus is just going to give us the front end part of the website? Content management, etc. is going to be done as part of a separate effort?

Jean--I respectfully disagree. E-democracy.org has some good guidelines and policies if you're interested (coppied below). I still haven't figured out why they feel email lists are better than forums. The number of participants on OP is a very small percentage of the Orange County population and informal research I started a couple of months ago, indicates to me that fewer new contributors are joining in than when the forum first began. The number of public officials who post has also declined.

(E-democracy.org) Guidelines and Civic Terms
We use e-mail lists, with important rules and guidelines, to foster useful and respectful discussion. Please carefully review these terms when you join each forum. Our volunteer forum managers help keep things on track, but participant self-governance is our foundation.

People not willing to participate based on our terms of civic participation or forum management notices should visit forums on other sites or create your own personal e-mail list of forum.

E-Democracy is not a government entity nor do we receive public funding. We seek to build effective citizen-based public spaces by design. Our guidelines and rules create the most effective online space for the freedom of political expression on the Internet possible. Every citizen has a right to participate in our forums as well as an equal responsibility to not place themselves above other participants who follow our basic rules and guidelines. E-Democracy does issue warnings and remove participants with due process for behavior that threatens the fundamental mission of the public space.

I just want to say that I agree with Terri on this - Town-run websites should not at all be like OP. This website exists to promote specific views and political positions. That has no place on a municipal web site. (Nor does FrontPage, but do we really have to bicker about that?)

However, the type of software that runs this site can be installed in 10 minutes, and moderating would not really take that much time if a staff person was already spending time online, which the Town Webmaster shuold be doing.

Even better, they can install Civic Space which has built-in forums and lots of options for moderation and how much permission to give people. Again, this would involve minimal effort for a qualified webmaster.

Mark--the decision to go with C+ was made based on staff's desire for a content managemen system and templating tools. The town's IT department has 6 employees and they are responsible for desktops/laptops/servers/network/web. As the amount of web usage has increased, the staff has had to require individual departments to handle more of their own web development. But those departments don't have web developers on staff. So the IT dept felt like getting a content management system (CMS), including page templates, would help those non-techies produce better work, would reduce the amount of work on a limited IT staff, and would also ensure a more reliable review process of the non-techies work. With the CMS, departmental staff create new pages and then send those pages into a holding tank for someone in IT to review and then FTP up. For those who aren't familiar with CMS, it's among other things, a WYSIWYG editor. You can copy and paste a word processing document into the editor window and voila--you have a web document.

Because the TechComm didn't want to purchase a CMS/license in the absense of document standards, we were at an impasse with staff. As those who have worked on town advisory committees know, such conflicts aren't uncommon. So the C+ deal is a compromise. With C+ the town staff get access to a CMS and a website that they feel is more acceptable than what we currently have. The TechComm gets the time to do the research explained in earlier responses. If the staff had invested in a CMS, the purchase price and staff time would have precluded any possibility of switching as a result of that research; we would have been stuck with whatever document standards were supported by the CMS.

Now to answer your specific questions:

Do we get to keep any of the website designed by CivicPlus at the end of the two year period? We will not get to keep their navigation or any banners/graphics they create. Not a big deal IMHO. We will have all the original documents and graphics for our future use.

Does the contract give us unencumbered access to all text on the website, some of which may have been edited and copyrighted by CivicPlus? Chapel Hill content will not be copyrighted by C+. Anything we put into C+ will also be copied on Town servers so we don't lose our access to our intellectual property when the contract ends. We will also have the ability to FTP anything down off the site.

If we get to keep navigation, etc., does CivicPlus have clear ability to license any customized code that they depend on (ie - will they certify the originality of the code, etc.)? see above. We don't want any customized code.

Are there clearly defined $ in the termination section of the contract if we want to continue to use their stuff? Yes, but I don't remember the details. It's expensive though. That's why it is incumbent upon us to get our research done quickly so that we have all the elements thoroughly vetted, tested and ready to go onto Town servers no later than August 1, 2007.

Terri, did the Tech Board even look at free, open source, community-building tools like Civic Space? It offerrs lots of templates and is also a CMS.

Oops--sorry about the missing end tag! Like others, I miss the review feature.

Ruby's right about the ease of setting up a town-owned forum space, but at the same time that staff and TechComm are working on web issues, we're also preparing an Open Source Pilot Project. We're really busy and have many more ideas than we have staff time.

There are a couple of OSS forum applications I hope we can explore:
http://e-democracy.org/groupserver/
http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,1765425,00.asp

I'll add CivicSpace to the list. I would also be glad to pass on any other specific recommendations for software, document standards, archiving practices, etc.

Terri, thank you for contributing so much time, energy, and intelligence to the Technology Advisory Board. Citizens like you who freely donate professional expertise to the Town are underappreciated.

I'd like to second Mary's comment. Thank You Terri!

The italics are fixed. I am looking into plug-ins that will allow us to preview comments before posting. :)

Thank you both (plus Will!). And I sincerely apologize to Ruby for the extra work I created for her.

I am looking into plug-ins that will allow us to preview comments before posting. :)

Great! Thanks for fixing my post the other day.

I do want to be clear (for all) the I agree the town should go forward with this ... just doing so with eyes (and options) open.

Also ... not bickering about FrontPage, just clarifying. ;-)

Thanks for your enlightening responses, Terri! (I third Mary and Brian above).

Ed, I was not trying to bring up the "why me" argument. I'm a newcomer to this issue, so I had to make a few assumptions about the process - obviously those who are much more knowledgeable about the topic (Terri and such) understand more fully the complexities of the situation. I am simply offering potential problems based on my experience, but it's clear to me that the Tech Board is fully aware of these problems and are taking the necessary precautions.

The point of my post was simply to drive home the point that the scope of this project is going to put a lot of momentum behind whatever proposal the Tech Board accepts. I understand the C+ proposal is a cost-effective bridge until the Tech Board can offer a proper proposal, but as Brian wrote above, there is a certain momentum whenever you implement a large-scale CMS in terms of staff training and URIs of websites (e.g. a certain dept website). I don't think C+ is bait-and-switching, but I've definitely seen CMS implementations last longer in organizations due to the fact that "it works" and fear of screwing up a new implementation.

Roy, I didn't mean to associate you with my second paragraph. I was just addressing your remarks about Burlington's website. I should have included a stronger transition, to make that clearer.

The Chapel Hill Public Library has a pretty good site design. Who made it?

Regarding Chapel Hill hosting electronic forums for citizens, I'm pretty sure I understand the complexities, both policy- and resource- related. But it would be a shame if there were not an open electronic space within which we could have input to the formative process for the new Chapel Hill site:

- Where else to debate, for example) the merits of (an) RSS feed(s) or handheld compatibility for news releases, new policy documents, meeting announcements and the like?
- What better place to argue for an open API, so that citizens who wish to incorporate, with appropriate acknowledgment, both information and even some functionality from the Chapel Hill site can do so?
- Ideally, there would be ongoing usability testing, the results of which would be available for us to learn from and discuss publicly.
- The written record of our discussions would, in itself, provide guidance to future development efforts, both here and in other communities.

In the end, I am of the opinion that eGovernment is as much about participating in the shaping of its tools and resources as it is about access to forms, minutes, news and business processes.

The world of electronic possibilities and citizen expectations will not stop evolving. If the "opportunity" to work with the appropriatetely named C+ stymies citizen collaboration in developing a citizen resource, it is indeed a step backward, not simply marching in place. And that will be a cost.

/bg

- Where else to debate, for example) the merits of (an) RSS feed(s) or handheld compatibility for news releases, new policy documents, meeting announcements and the like?
- What better place to argue for an open API, so that citizens who wish to incorporate, with appropriate acknowledgment, both information and even some functionality from the Chapel Hill site can do so?

Here here. It would be great to have some topic-based RSS feeds for town and county government agenda items and new documents (not too mention for the Board of County Commissioners, more than a one-business-day heads-up on what the agenda items actually are)

Topics would be categories that people might be interested in, such as educational operating funding, Carolina North, or whatever people are likely to want to follow.

Two files from the TechComm might be of interest. First is the outline of the web strategy plan. This proposal was sent to Council in June 2004. The committee expected this proposal would constitute the basis for an RFP. It was submitted again in March 2005 as part of the TechComm's larger Technology Plan.
http://www.unc.edu/~tbuckner/chwebstrat.htm
(I know this exists somewhere on the town website, but it's too hard to find)

Second is the first part of a presentation we made to Council in August 2004 on e-democracy.
http://www.unc.edu/~tbuckner/edemocracy.htm
(I made this presentation so I've included my commentary. Please remember I had only 3 minutes so many of the important concepts of e-democracy are touched upon but not addressed in the depth they deserve.)

Bernard, one of the largest components of the TechComm's (to use Terri's cool consolidation) discussion on eGovernance involves the "openness" of the toolsets.

Some of us our pushing to make sure the citizens retain "the means of production" and "the means of consumption". I see the path to e-democracy victory being built with F/OSS tools (Apache,OpenOffice,Asterisk), platforms (Civicspace) and open standards outputs (RSS,OpenOffice SXW, XHTML, etc.). Why? Well there's the obvious reasons, avoiding vendor-lock, retaining content "ownership", low or no cost deployments, etc. but there's also additional capabilities most ignore. For instance, if we build upon an open platform, contributions of citizen content, citizen analysis and even citizen software support can be more easily integrated into an evolving egovernance ecosystem. Or, as another example, another layer can be added by citizen activists (think OrangePolitics.org v2006) to integrate or annotate Town generated content into a wider discussion.

Right now, I'm working to restore search capability to the archive of Town minutes and agendas, something I need to continue to build my 2005 election profiles (or, for some members, their trackrecord of shame), by outboarding the content. It'd be great to be able to contribute my efforts back into an open governance platform so that the Town could save money avoiding reinventing the wheel and so that other citizens could use that capability. Will we get there anytime soon? Hard to say, the Town's current top management lacks the flexibility and vision to initiate or support this project and, I think, is somewhat perturb by the consequences of opening up the Town's information vault. It'll be up to the Council to overcome this strange hesitancy and get the ball rolling.

Finally. I've always couched my discussions with TechComm in the more general terms of "open source governance", which refers to a way of thinking about governance, not software. The reasons for OSS's success are multi-fold, but a few I think can be adapted to improve governance. One is the idea the "more eyeballs" the better. Source code is shared as openly and as timely as possible so that problems/issues can be raised and dealt with as close to the point of contact as possible. The more people at all levels reviewing change, the better, even if there's a certain amount of churn caused by miscommunication/misunderstanding. The recent reviews of the budget, I think, would've been better served by releasing detailed expenditure information to as many concerned citizens as possible and trying to integrate as broad as possible feedback into the process. Instead, the Council selected and sponsored a "Star Chamber" of who's who of Chapel Hill (median age ???). I'm aware of a number of citizens that were turned off by this approach but felt impotent to influence the discussion. There's other apects of OSS development such as recording the history of a project, using open tools and standards, etc. that have equivalent analogues in the egovernance world.

 

Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.

 

Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

 
Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.