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Project of the Week – Local Government 2.0

As anyone on GovLoop can easily see, many of you are doing some very cool things to help improve government at every level. But, let’s face it, it’s not always easy. Whether it’s a lack of resources or red tape, implementing innovation in government is tough at all levels, and, in my opinion, especially tough at the local level. Because of this, most local governments are not exactly blazing trails when it comes to adopting and utilizing new Web technology.

My day job requires me to research municipalities, so I’m constantly browsing websites of municipalities all across the country. And, believe me, for the most part, it’s not pretty. Design aspects aside, online services available to residents are very limited.

While brainstorming an idea for this “project of the week” I came across one of the best local government websites I have ever seen, and, of course, I found it via GovLoop. It gave me the idea to highlight them as an example of what Gov 2.0 can be at the local government level.

After spending just a few minutes on the City of Newport News, Virginia’s website, you quickly conclude they get Gov 2.0. Their website should be the model for local government 2.0!

The sheer number of online services available to their residents is amazing, but it doesn’t stop there. They also offer government to government services which won them the 2008 Digital Government Achievement Award by the Center for Digital Government in the government to government category. Through their Open eGov (see pdf) program, they are “creating a collaborative software ecosystem, where government organizations, non-profits and the private sector work together to share the cost of enhanced capabilities.”

On nngov.com, you can:
-pay your property taxes online
-pay your parking ticket online
-apply for a job via their LINC portal
borrow an e-book
-renew a library book
-browse a highly interactive GIS map
-pay your water bill online
-access your water account
-report problems and complaints online
watch live and on-demand videos of meetings and other events
-watch their local access channel live online
-subscribe to RSS feeds for agendas, minutes, and video podcasts
…and much more.

Much of the work done on nngov.com can be credited to fellow GovLoop members: Sam Allgood, Lead Programmer; Stephanie Suttle, Team Leader/Project Manager; and Andy Stein, IT Director

Congratulations to them for implementing such a fantastic website that undoubtedly provides increased efficiency and reduced costs while providing their citizens with outstanding service.

Use of Social Media in Local Government

I’m sure you’ve all read enough about how social media in government by now. So I will not bore you with yet another article/blog post about the topic.

Here are some great resources on the topic of SocMed as it relates to Local Government:

A quick look at Steve Lunceford’s GovTwit directory and you can see how many government entities at all levels are using Twitter, whether it’s to announce upcoming meetings, provide updates on community events (rained out, cancelled, etc), report police and fire calls, etc.

If you have a chance, I recommend reading a recent blog post by fellow GovLooper Bill Schrier, CTO for the City of Seattle, about the use of Twitter and Facebook in Government.

In my opinion, the best resource I’ve found for information regarding local government’s use of web 2.0 is MuniGov 2.0 created by GovLooper Bill Greeves who also created the MuniGov 2.0 group on GovLoop.

What does your town having going on online? I’d love to hear about it. For a future project, I’d like to key on a specific case of how Gov 2.0 has significantly cut overhead and improved efficiency.

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Ingrid Koehler

Hi Greg,

Really exciting to hear about this. Here in the UK a number of councils are doing some really interesting gov2.0 things (e.g. Barnet Council) and more of us are embracing social media. We’re trying to capture some of these examples and explore some of the issues (including hopefully some nice efficiency stories) through an online conference (next week 6-8 April, free)

Also the LGA group (Local Government Association) is set to launch a new service (8 April) that will help councillors to use social media to keep in touch with local residents. Tweety Hall is the latest online development that will help voters track what their local councillor is doing online. You can find out more about it here.

Bo Lora

I found the City of Newport News, Virginia’s website to be rather Web 1.0ish or Gov 1.x. A transactional site and not really one that invites and creates an online community typical of Web/Gov 2.0 objectives.

In “a collaborative software ecosystem” I would like to see:
– Tighter integration with the jobs site. And it could have collaborative features like “people who looked at this job also looked at this job.”
– They could mashed the “interactive map” with Google which is very familiar. Instead the custom map looks and feels clunky.
– RSS feed link should be front and center with RSS badge like many Web 2.0 sites.
– No Web 2.0 share links to Digg, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, Facebook, Twitthis, etc.
– better use of discussion and wikis to engage the community in building compelling content about the city.

When I look at my own city’s website it’s much of the same, they have lots of the transactional stuff. It makes sense, its a lower cost channel and they can save them money. The state of Texas has saved millions with http://www.texasonline.com.

But back to San Antonio, this page is a good example of lost opportunity Gov 2.0 opportunity: http://www.sanantonio.gov/sapar. This page is dreadful. What they are missing out on is that many citizens probably know more about the parks than their own staff. This section would benefit greatly from a wiki platform which is “a collaborative software ecosystem.” It would allow those citizens that frequent the parks to upload pictures, write stories about trails, animals they see and engage in social conversation about the park. City staff would benefit when they see a post like “They never empty the trash cans.” Then they can address the problem and inform the interested parties right away. That in my opinion is Gov 2.0.

Allen Sheaprd


That is some endorsement for a website. The on demand video and payments are fascinating. Getting ebooks is new.

My favorite was City of Norfolk – http://www.norfolk.gov/

Do you think blogs city council should blog?

Should blogs be part of a city website?


Andrew Krzmarzick

Greg – nice post and thanks for highlighting Newport News. As you know, I’ve been doing some writing about measuring Web 1.0 here and here and here. The back and forth on the first one is interesting because it discusses the difference between 1.0 and 2.0. Seeing your assessment above, I am tempted to call it Web 1.0 since it’s more transactional than conversational, which seems to correspond with Bo’s comment. So that I don’t repeat him here, I think one of the hallmarks of “Gov 2.0” is connectivity to other parts of the Web….such as links to a blog or wiki where conversations are happening or content is created by the constituent. Are they using Twitter (with a running stream on the homepage) to communicate in real-time with their target audience…Please don’t get me wrong, I think the transactional experience is excellent…and it’s the precursor to real interactivity – authentic give and take conversations – between government and citizen. Thanks again for your post.

Greg Berry

Thank you to all for your comments.
Bo and Andrew are absolutely correct. I should have been more clear on differentiating the Web/Gov 1.0 vs Web/Gov 2.0 components of the Newport News website. Must have been my post Vegas fog 🙂

Bo, great suggestions! Thanks for the links to the other sites. I’ll check them out.

Allen, that’s a great question. I think a blog is appropriate for a local gov to include on their site, as long as it’s informational and not commentary (political or otherwise). As far as elected board members (councilors, commissioners, supervisors) blogging, I certainly encourage it as long as the content is not considered confidential.

Ingrid, thank you, I’d like to follow up with you on this and another topic.

Allen Sheaprd

Thank you. Our city had enough problems just posting real estate information on the web. A blog is something we want but as you know they can get ugly. Even city council meetings are not always plesent. We fear that people sitting at home may feel even more unrestrained to say what they will.

However it is just that ability to comment from home on their schedual that is so important.

I agree with you about having departments blog. I would like to open the blogs up for replies but even Mike Leavitt’s blog on US dept HHS hand side comments. Monitoring the blogs may be the only way but that is not fully transparent. We want to be transparent but still “print all the news that is fit to print”

I’ve passed your blog onto our web folks. I hope it creates ideas and gets the conversation started.


Jeff Self

I think a lot of local governments could learn from Newport News. They decided about 4 years ago to use an open source product and they are now reaping the benefits from it. They are in complete control of their website. Meanwhile, my city has been looking at commercial CMS’s for the last 5 or 6 years and we’re still nowhere near getting one. Newport News put its faith in its own employees. Unfortunately other local governments put more faith in vendors than their employees. Meanwhile killer web sites are springing up all over the web that use modern technologies and web frameworks such as Django and Ruby on Rails.

A big question to ask about your local government is “How dedicated are they to web technology?” Is there a separate organization, department, division, or team? Or are there 5 employees who spend time on the site whenever possible? Here is a great article that talks about corporate websites. It applies to local governments as well.

10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Websites


Andy Stein been doing great work for years and much of it based on open source software. Good to hear he is getting kudo’s for it!

Adriel Hampton

Thanks for highlighting this, Greg. It’s good to see a local gov opening up to active data sharing with nonprofits and private enterprise, which can make a huge different in QOL for citizens.

dancin eight

Hi Greg,
Not so much social media, but an intense attempt to improve emergency communications nonetheless! A few folks from NJ that I know have recently released UnitedAlert.com and are offering it as a free emergency alert service to all fed, state and local government and schools nationwide!!! Anyone can sign up and create their own groups.

The creators are IT and Homeland Security professionals and truly took a patriotic approach to their unique release of this web-based emergency alert system.

It has some really unique features like the ability for the public to submit HLS tips from their cellphones or email. United Alert is applied as an “intelligence fusion center” in which law enforcement can share the intelligence gained from the public with other law enforcement officials and states. Vital tips and comments can be forwarded through the United Alert website.

They’ve also taken a cool approach to promote a volunteer effort with something called HEG. Members are given the opportunity to participate in the Human Emergency Grid (HEG), a collaborative effort in which the general public can volunteer their professional expertise to government entities during emergencies or critical times.

The state of NJ has already adopted the system and has created a few government alert groups such as ‘NJ Alert’ (OEM and HLS) and ‘Public Health Prepardness’ (Department of Health and Senior Services).

Please check it out and pass on the good news! http://www.unitedalert.com