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Cook County debuts two WordPress Web sites, new social media channels

The new Cook County Government homepage is a place where citizens can find out about news, deadlines, programs and other information to help them interact with the county in a smarter way.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said transparency means delivering useful information to the public in real time. This Web site is designed to do that in a logical and intuitive manner, she said.

“The goal was to create and grow the site into a true gateway for county information and the rest of the county’s Web sites. We’re trying to make all our Cook County web properties as informative as possible and we’re laying a good groundwork to be able to better disseminate information and incorporate new technologies to improve the way we serve the public,” she said.

The new county home page is located at www.CookCountyIL.gov.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District also debuted a completely new Web site today at www.ForestPreserveDistrict.com.

Cook County Forest Preserve District Superintendent Arnold Randall said the site is dramatically more attractive and easier to navigate.

“This site reflects our commitment to making visitors’ online experience, as well as their trips to our forest preserve district resources, more enjoyable,” he said.

“We look at the Web as a new way to build good relationships and we want to make sure people feel like a visit to our Web site is time well spent. I think the expanded multimedia and search engine capabilities will ensure that.”

Other new features include interactive maps and a dynamic calendar of upcoming events.

Cook County is stepping for the first time into the realm of social media.

Cook County Chief Information Officer Greg Wass said the county’s interest in using social media as a communication tool extends beyond posting to Facebook at tweeting on Twitter.

“We use social media of course to provide information and news to the public, but we’re also going to be using it as a listening tool that can alert us to challenges or opportunities for improvement. It’s another way to tap into innovative ideas. Social media is great for connecting people to solutions,” he said.

County government serves tens of thousands of people on a daily basis. Their inquiries run across a wide range of topics, from the Botanic Gardens to the criminal courts.

“Our task is to provide that information to our residents in smart, convenient way,” Wass said.

“I think the average citizen wants information about the county, but oftentimes they don’t want to track down this information during regular business hours or make a trip to the County Building. We’re trying to meet the needs of the public on their terms and their schedule. This new home page represents another step toward that goal.”

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Greg Licamele

I’ll be honest, I don’t much care for the balance of content. I counted at least 11 references to the council president on the home page. How does that help the public? To me, the message of this site is all about the council president. Where’s the focus on services, deadlines and more that are proclaimed in the text above? TMI about the elected official; balance it out. Everywhere I look I see her name. Overwhelming.

Sebastian James

Very good point. What we didn’t mention in the release was that next week we start classes, teaching the press people/webmasters/heads in each agency, department and bureau how to use WordPress. The goal is to then empower/encourage/require them to post about successes, events, deadlines, missions, etc.

We believe that’s the most direct way to bring the daily successes and news of the county to the people in the quickest manner possible. So the content mix will grow in volume and diversity. We can’t depend on the press to tell the people what we do and what we do right. Especially in Cook County, Illinois.

Another thing is the political climate. The executive was elected with almost 80% of the vote. She ran on reform, transparency and accountability. We’ve delivered a balanced budget with minimal layoffs, are moving to shared services, breaking down information and manpower silos, buying smarter, and doing a lot of things differently than before. It’s all driven by the executive. It’s impossible to ignore that.

The other thing that you don’t know, and you had no reason to know, is that the “I Need To” page has consistently been in the Top 5 landing pages following the soft launch. Prior to this, the portal pages at the other end of the “I Need To” link were 3-4 clicks deep in the legacy website. To make that information available in just 2 clicks is revolutionary around these parts.

Before this new homepage, we didn’t have the ability to search the site at all.

You wouldn’t have seen any information from the Board of Review, Bureau of Revenue, Sheriff’s department, or any other county site. Inclusion wasn’t part of the culture. “I’ve got mine, you need to get yours, and if the citizen has to click across 4 or 5 sites for information, that’s OK” was the norm.

There’s still plenty of work to do, and a complete migration will be accomplished by the end of the year. But we’ve done a lot; the average Cook County citizen has seen the county do a complete 180 in terms of the web.

Greg Licamele

Great insight, thanks, Sebastian! And I know it can be tough to turn a ship around — it takes time. Great first step; it was just my initial reaction to seeing the council president’s name in so many places that it really caught my eye. You’re on the right road on the back end with Word Press and social media; keep it up!

Kristy Dalton

@Sebastian Fun to see another government on WordPress. Good work. I like the use of Google Calendar in the list view. I notice that the user is redirected to blog.cookcountygov.com, with WP as the interfacing homepage. The Facebook page is called Cook County Blog. I’m just curious if the plan is to continue branding the site as a blog, or eventually let it just become your main site? What solution did you find for document management? One drawback of WP for me has always been the limited out of the box file storage system.

Sebastian James


The plan is to migrate all content to WP. This might mean a few pages in the legacy system have to be skinned to look like WP pages.

Our CIO has established WP as the standard for public-facing sites; and SharePoint for internal and intra-net use.

Eventually, the “Cook County Blog” will become a section of a larger homepage/website. That we wanted to start filling the information void sooner than later drove the decision to go with Cook County Blog so soon. When that day comes, I imagine there would still be a lot of news and information on the front page. We’d find ways to make finding the exact agency/bureau/department/topic/task a little easier to get to.