Durham, NC Turns to CivicPlus for Government Website Design Consulting
Selecting the Right Consulting Partner
With a large-scale website redesign project in front of them that would impact a significant number of departments and stakeholders, the Durham project leaders realized that they needed to align themselves with experts in local government website design who could guide them through the strategic planning process. They began with an internal needs assessment that would inform the criteria of a formal request for proposal (RFP).
“We started by soliciting a vast majority of stakeholders and departments when we were first proposing updates to the website,” explained John Stinson, web application manager for Technology Solutions for the City of Durham. “We conducted a review with all departments, their directors, and their assistant directors. They all gave feedback on their department pages and function areas. In the end, we had input from roughly 50 to 60 people identifying their top issues with our existing website and with their top needs and wants with the new site. This collaborative feedback was used to develop the scorecard used for our RFP.”
“We interviewed a lot of different companies and CivicPlus was the one we felt we could work best with,” said Ron Ferrell, senior public affairs specialist and web content editor in the Office of Public Affairs in Durham. “We enjoyed collaborating with the CivicPlus team right from the beginning. They had good ideas and seemed responsive to our ideas right from the beginning as well.”
According to Stinson, CivicPlus’ experience and focus on local government website design was a key deciding factor in the selection process.
“With CivicPlus, the cornerstone of their development is to help municipalities and local governments create websites. They have good templates, but more importantly a good understanding of what residents want from a government website. When they showed us the tools and best practices they would leverage to help us make data-driven decisions regarding our site content, organization, and navigation, like heat mapping, we knew we wanted to work with them on our project. Plus, we appreciated their commitment to helping us migrate our existing data.”
Ready to leverage CivicPlus’ consulting services to learn best practices and benefit from the experience of experts in local government website design, Durham began its implementation process by collaborating with CivicPlus’ expert consultants.
The Strategic Planning Process
When it came time to begin the strategic planning process, under the direction of their CivicPlus consultants, the leaders at Durham decided to formulate a small, strategic implementation team comprised of key stakeholders from across the administration.
“Seven people made up our strategic implementation team,” remembers Ferrell. “When we implemented our previous website, at times we had 30 – 40 people in a room trying to make decisions about the website’s content. When we worked with our [CivicPlus] consulting team, our final team of seven represented a spectrum of roles and departments within the City of Durham, including technology solutions, our CIO, the City Manager’s Office, the Office of Public Affairs—which is ultimately the site owner—representatives from the strategic planning department, customer service, and the police department.”
According to Stinson, reducing the total number of stakeholders involved helped the planning team to move quickly while still making decisions that took into consideration the needs of every department.
Ferrell agreed that the consulting team was effective in working collaboratively.
“The way everyone worked together was great,” remembers Ferrell. “We would get in a room, and actively look at other leading local government websites and we’d all bring ideas from other sites that we’d researched. Our [CivicPlus] consultants were always open to our ideas, which would inspire more suggestions and guidance. Being a relatively small team helped us to more easily reach a consensus on strategic decisions.”
The leadership team at Durham knew that there were key features lacking in their existing civic website when they began planning sessions with CivicPlus’ consultants.
According to Ferrell, “We had an old website. It was probably eight years old and in bad need of updating and upgrading.”
Stinson echoed these sentiments, saying, “Our mobile presence was very outdated too. Our previous website was built for desktop only, and as people started using smartphones to access Internet content, their experience navigating our civic website from a smartphone was cumbersome.”
According to Stinson, the process of reviewing website traffic data was insightful and incredibly valuable in helping the team prioritize content and determine a website structure.
“One of the biggest key insights came when we saw the pages where residents were really going the most. They weren’t necessarily the pages we were expecting. For example, we discovered that one of the top pages residents were navigating to was our jobs page. We knew there was traffic to those pages in the summer from those seeking summer employment, but we had no idea that those pages saw such high traffic levels throughout the year.”
According to Stinson, the data analysis process was also essential to establishing the layout of Durham’s homepage.
“Thanks to the heatmapping analysis our [CivicPlus] consultants provided we were able to reassess how to layout our homepage. It even encouraged us to place links on our website for services we don’t offer ourselves, such as utilities other than water, so that our civic website could serve residents as a one-stop-shop for all their civic needs.”
After the Durham, NC CivicEngage® Website Launch
According to Stinson, the new website redesign has been well-received by residents.
“Any questions that we received from residents asking where they could find specific content in the new system paled in comparison to the positive feedback we received relative to making the homepage simple, and offering the main things residents wanted in easy-to-locate areas on the home and department pages. We also received positive feedback from residents and individuals outside our main footprint who were looking to do business in Durham, or who have traveled through our community.”
Durham, North Carolina’s new CivicEngage website has already delivered on the goal of enabling greater resident self-service and offering valuable functionality. According to Stinson, residents now have access to helpful online tools and resources.
“Our residents were always engaged, but we have seen them become even more engaged as we have begun offering more services through our website,” said Stinson. “Our residents always used our website to look up boards, commissions, and council meetings, but now they can request services, report issues, and watch city council meetings live. We are slowly rolling out more services, like planning review submissions and inspections. We keep finding that the more we offer, the more engaged our residents become.”
Stinson also pointed out that the implementation of a mobile responsive website has proven to help Durham accomplish its accessibility goals.
“Just having responsive design and providing a good experience on mobile has led to increased traffic,” he said.
Looking back on their successful implementation, for Ferrell, one of the most valuable aspects of working with the consulting team was the collaborative atmosphere.
“The people we talked to from CivicPlus were always open to our ideas. They didn’t try to push their agenda on us. What we wanted from the beginning didn’t really fit most of CivicPlus’ templates. We wanted something different and they were open to that and helped us every step of the way to build the website we wanted.”
For Stinson, one of the most valuable aspects of working with CivicPlus was knowing that they were being guided by industry experts.
“We really valued their direction,” said Stinson. “I can share with my coworkers my thoughts on best practices or more modern ways to implement a new web design, but it doesn’t carry the same authority as when an industry expert comes in from a well-known, award-winning organization that offers services not just to us, but to other governments around the country. I believe having the guidance of our [CivicPlus] consultants reduced the overall amount of debate that took place as we made our strategic decisions.”
Not only were residents pleased by the results of the new website, so were leaders and stakeholders at the City of Durham.
“We received feedback from different departments complimenting us on how smoothly the implementation was conducted,” said Stinson. “We told them that our success was the result of the direction we received from our [CivicPlus] consultants and their process for migrating over our data,”
Stinson also points to the training that the team at Durham received from CivicPlus as a key component in the implementation process.
“The training we received was done with our own information,” said Stinson. “This was extremely helpful for staff who wanted hands-on experience seeing how their edits would impact their real pages. It is much easier to comprehend a training curriculum when you are working with your own content.”
Return on Investment
“After receiving consulting services from [CivicPlus] and launching our CivicEngage website, we have seen increased traffic to our different department pages, which was definitely an important goal that we wanted to accomplish.
When asked what would have changed about their website redesign project, had they not chosen to work with the [CivicPlus] team, Stinson replied, “It wouldn’t have gone as smoothly.”
Ferrell agreed, adding, “The whole process went really well all along. We had a good trainer who worked with our different departments. We had a lot of administrators trying to use the website once it was developed and he worked with lots of different staff members directly which helped us out immensely. We still work with our training team and they are still very good.”
When asked about future improvements to Durham’s ever-evolving digital presence, Stinson and Ferrell continue to make plans to further enhance the resident experience with their civic website.
“We are looking forward to the next redesign,” said Ferrell. “We learned so much going through this one, and our seven-person team who launched our current site is still working together, serving as the website governance team. Everyone on the team is familiar with what we went through to build our current site and the way we collaborated to accomplish our goals. Thanks to the work we did with CivicPlus, we have a really good idea of how to plan for the next evolution of our website.”