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Digital Government: How Technologically Fit Are You?

Alright, 2013 is in full swing, and now is the time to check up on your New Year’s resolutions. Staying on target? It depends, we know. Now let’s get specific. Like many of you, using digital media and determining its maximum benefit for our organizations and constituencies was one of our resolutions. No, we know you really have this on your list of resolutions. We’re not alone in this endeavor. We felt that since so many of us in the public sector are feeling our way along, we thought it would be a good time for a digital health check up! Follow along and see how you’re doing.


Utility and Ease of Use

When was the last time you were frustrated attempting to use a poorly designed website? Did you find it difficult to navigate and end up leaving the site in frustration? Have you tried to use a website’s search tool, but there seems to be no logic to locating the information you seek? We’ve all been there and understand how infuriating it can be. Now let’s turn the lens on ourselves for a moment.

Public sector websites are in the business of government. At one end of the spectrum are websites that provide a bare minimum of information to citizens. At the other end of this spectrum are those public websites that are attempting to redefine government accessibility and transparency by providing an interactive set of resources and that deliver services directly to the public. Regardless of their complexity, as public administrators, we have an obligation to be aware of potential difficulties citizens may encounter when navigating our websites. Identifying and overcoming these difficulties is crucial since they may contribute to citizen frustration with government, potentially undermining our ability to advance civic improvements. Helping users gain access to the information they seek in an expedient and user friendly manner is one of the hallmarks of a well-designed website. The right design can greatly expand access to government services for citizens. The wrong design can build frustration and erode confidence. A few suggestions for assuring more user friendly, useful websites are provided here for your consideration:

  • Get to know your IT personnel, interns or volunteers well. They are usually on top of innovation and applications that can improve citizen access.
  • Whenever possible, get weekly updates on the number of hits to your website, where most consumers go for information, and what information needs to be updated. This gives you areas in which to focus your limited time and resources.
  • Stay abreast of what your constituents want, need or could benefit from on your website. These are also areas worthy of your attention and resources.
  • Routinely put yourself at the citizen’s computer-Test out your website for yourself: Would you be able to get the information you needed? How user-friendly is it? Does it look appealing to the eye? How frequently is it updated?

Public websites have a unique obligation to reduce the noise or distractions on a website. Further, maintaining an easy to navigate website that delivers as much useful content and service as possible should be a priority. For some pointers and examples of public website improvements, view a few federal websites that received makeovers.


Social Media: Sharing Useful Information or Opening Up a Pandora’s Box?

Why should you consider social media? Social media is emerging as a method to rapidly relay information on a continual basis and to reach a large number of people with a single tweet. Still, social media’s increasing role as a public informant carries both positive and negative aspects. Many public administrators are trying to figure out what is the best way to communicate necessary information to the public. Social media are now commonly used as conduits to provide information such as weather-related closures, town hall meetings, community initiatives, and general public interest information. Public administrators are now using social media, with precautions, as a mainstream feeder of pertinent information.

One popular social media outlet is www.govloop.com. Govloop is an interactive website, blog, twitter-feed, and all around knowledge sharing community. Govloop provides an opportunity to expand your social media knowledge and tool utilization by sharing real world stories. Another example to consider is the presidential campaign of 2012. Social media played a vital role of information sharing as the general public provided instant feedback on the candidates, correcting misconceptions, and fact checking statements. For further social media news in local government and the public sector, click here.


Promoting the Informed Constituent

On the topic of resolutions, throughout the past several years administrators and the professional medical community have fought the never-ending battle against fake scientific information. For example, the web is rife with pseudo-scientific support for fad diets and the like.

As administrators, how can we better protect consumers? One suggestion is to promote legislation and policies to hold accountability on both sides of the spectrum, producers and consumers. Taking the time to suggest ways of fact checking websites could prove valuable and protect vulnerable citizens from medical scams. One valuable resource worth linking is www.trustortrash.org, which allows consumers to evaluate health information they receive via the internet.

The age of instant access to information is upon us. The public sector is clearly in a period of transition and periodic checkups are worthy of attention. The digital age may enable public services and information to be made more widely accessible than ever before. Yet, assuring quality, reliability, and validity in the digital age will continue to prove challenging. Assisting our constituents as they navigate this brave new world of information may yield tremendous benefits for all.


Authors: Sylvia Auguste, Pace University MPA Graduate Student; Hillary J. Knepper, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Pace University; Christopher J. Godfrey, Ph.D. Director, Web 2.0 Interdisciplinary Informatics Institute Department of Psychology, Pace University; Email Contact: [email protected].


 Image courtesy of http://theparentnormal.com/2012/08/15/best-parenting-websites/.

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