AccessFayetteville.org has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top city government websites in the state of Arkansas. Below you'll find an interview with Lindsley Smith, Communications Director for the City of Fayetteville.
- Can you summarize the history of Fayetteville's web portal?
Mayor Lioneld Jordan made open government and interactive communication administrative priorities when he was elected in 2008. His transition team identified significant improvements in the city’s website as one of the greatest needs, and it was one of the first measures implemented upon taking office in 2009. At the time, the website offered basic information, minimal visual elements such as pictures or video, and needed to have a more audience-centered approach to best serve the citizens’ needs for easily accessing helpful information about their city. Moreover, the City Council passed a resolution for the city to incorporate more social media elements in city communication, so Facebook, Twitter, a blog, and an RSS Feed were added. For a number of years, the city has had a website committee that consists of at least one representative from each department, and last year their work included putting together frequently-asked questions with answers, recommend design changes, and determination of what documents and information needed to be provided on the website. Three employees, Community Outreach Coordinator Julie McQuade, IT specialist Scott Caldwell, and Communication Director Lindsley Smith worked together to incorporate the comments from the website committee and from citizens into the website and charted an overall design to update the website, both informational and visual elements, which really pushed the incorporated features along to reality. The project was led by Communication Director Lindsley Smith, and the city’s IT department handled the design in-house.
The City has a television center and a Government Channel that films meetings, which are provided as an archive on the website, and they also produce programs (such as a summary of the Fayetteville Forward initiative in which citizens were asked to help shape their city’s economic development plan and PSAs, such as the piece to recruit alternative transportation trail assistants to help users when and as needed). We also started using video links in the city’s quarterly newsletter; and the use of social media, particularly Facebook, helped greatly in getting the newsletter to a wider audience.
The most helpful advice for the design came from our citizens. We took their advice and listened to what they wanted, and we let that shape the content—a very audience-centered approach. For example, some citizens wanted a better directory, so, upon the advice we heard, we made the directory searchable by people, division, and position. Fred Cusanelli, the city’s volunteer photographer, has provided several pictures used on the website. We added an Avatar and 10 videos that also highlight features of Fayetteville for residents of Fayetteville and visitors to the site. The website can be easily translated into over 60 languages with a feature at the top of the homepage. Various departments in city government have also increased their use of online surveys, which has helped guide and improve city projects, policy, and future plans. The number of city public input sessions have increased, and Mayor Jordan has a quarterly city-wide Town Hall Meeting that are filmed and provided online.
- What are the overarching objectives of Fayetteville's current e-government initiatives?
The overarching objective is to follow open government principals and provide easy access to laws, initiatives, events, meetings, and other workings of local government for the press and public. We have improved the visibility and ease of online utility payments to the city and are now providing digital submissions to Development Services for proposed developments in the city. We continue our efforts to improve e-government as we currently assess our technology capabilities for citizen self-service. Citizens can register for sports and camps and reserve park facilities such as park pavilions, playground areas, ball fields, and other amenities in our 72 public parks. We will be bringing on the ability to pay parking fines and register for parking permits online. With the online features, in keeping with open government guiding principles, the agendas of the City Council meetings provide all of the documents that the City Council reviews on each issue, and such documents are provided to citizens at the same time the City Council receives them. Also, if someone misses a City Council meeting and desires to see only a part of the meeting, to save their time they can go directly to the item on the agenda and pull up the documents and to that point in the meeting to immediately review the Council’s and public’s discussion on that agenda item. The online features for the Animal Shelter, such as online adoption or fostering forms and regularly-updated features on animals up for adoption, have worked to increase the number of loving homes for homeless dogs and cats.
- From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by AccessFayetteville.org, both on- and off-line?
We effectively display the web url, even on police vehicles, and mention it often in public forums. In addition, the Mayor often references it on his personal Facebook page. We have a video board in the lobby of City Hall that, through its programming, promotes the city’s website. All press releases drive citizens to the website, and any public brochures, handouts, and other external communication mentions the website. Also, all employees are encouraged to incorporate it as part of their e-mail signatures so that the website url goes out in almost every city communication.
- How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Fayetteville's e-government services?
Many of the features came from citizen comments and suggestions during the Fayetteville Forward Summit and subsequent meetings of the citizen action groups. The Jordan Transition Team was made up of a group of citizens and they sought the input of citizens, and in their communication recommendation report, they advised that there should be an enhanced volunteer program (which was developed and is continually strengthened), online bill payments and internet-based services (which were developed and added), the use of Facebook and YouTube (which were added), updated e-newsletter with interactive features (which has greatly enhanced the newsletter and its capability to reach more people and provide more information and visual components), routine online surveys (these have been quite helpful in planning and to stimulate discussion), and maintain the city website as the single source for information, calendar, forms, and directory of services and contacts (which is a primary focus and is a major part of the website planning and updating process). There has also been an increase in citizen requests for more historic information and pictures of Fayetteville, so the City’s Communication Department has partnered with the Fayetteville Public Library on a project to scan hundreds to thousands of historic pictures of Fayetteville to be made available to citizens as another archive. The City’s Government Channel has been creating History Minutes to highlight features of Fayetteville that are available online. Also, to assist in the area of traffic moving at a helpful community pace, the City provides its “Cone Patrol” to provide a tracking of road projects or emergency situations.
- What is the most-used feature or service on the site?
The locations that are accessed most are utility payments, which is the highest, review of City Council meeting agenda and council meetings through streaming video, search of ordinances, and frequently asked questions (FAQs).
- In what way has harnessing social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) allowed you to connect more directly and personally with the citizens of Fayetteville?
It provides an immediate forum to a large number of people, including the large and computer-literate student body at The University of Arkansas, as well as online visitors from the region and across the nation.
- What measures do you take to make sure your web portal is interactive for citizens?
They can pay bills, download forms necessary from softball league registration to building permits, they can report crimes, they can request documents under the Freedom of Information Act, they can directly link to the Mayor and all City Council Members, they can watch City Council meetings live from anywhere in the world, they can apply for Board and Commission appointments, and they can apply for employment with the city. The city has partnered with The University of Arkansas in the creation and hosting of Eco-Logical Fayetteville, which helps citizens and businesses track their environmental footprint to build a more energy efficient and sustainability community.
- In developing Fayetteville's website, what were some of the obstacles that had to be overcome? How did you surpass them?
Lack of funding for such a project was an obstacle overcome by imagination, ingenuity, and hard work from dedicated city staff members.
- Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Fayetteville's web portal?
We are constantly adding additional documents and records and positioning our city to recognize and embrace the changing environment of social media. We are looking at open-data-source capabilities so that citizens who want to use data collected by the city can use their own applications for their entrepreneurial, neighborhood association, residential, or other uses. We are also working on revamping our employee intranet site to make employment information broader and more accessible to employees, while also adding in more interactive features for employee to employee communication. We are also looking at improved online employment processes.
- What else that you would like to tell us about AccessFayetteville.org?
The City of Fayetteville has received many compliments about the website and continues to listen to citizens suggestions for making improvements.