Site Review – Transparent Jefferson County, Colorado

Cross-posted from The Design State.

Well, it has certainly been awhile. I’ve been working hard at my day job, working toward my Master’s degree, working on my house, playing with my kid, working on a website for a local newspaper, writing about local government reform issues on another blog I run, and pretty much doing anything and everything other than writing here.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t been thinking about government web design. I’ve just been spending more time thinking about open government data, its possibilities, and implementing those possibilities. And thankfully, Jefferson County in Colorado has a site where transparency-by-OGD allows me to talk about both OGD and design in the same post. The county has over half a million residents and is the 4th most populous county in Colorado.

What’s Good

  1. Open Government Data! JeffCo has provided itemized, searchable information regarding the County’s finances. You can even download it if you need to. This is cutting-edge, especially for a local government entity. Jefferson County is basically working on provided their own version of to their citizens.
  2. The copy is written in a friendly, inviting manner. The tone isn’t emotionless or businesslike. The right tone can do more to build trust than any amount of promises or guarantees.
  3. Clear goals! If you want to see what their timeline for improving the site looks like, it isn’t hard to find.
  4. Citizen input is encouraged through public meetings a feedback form, and a blog.
  5. There is an interface which allows you to search through their procurement data and some tools that allow you to manipulate the data.

What Needs Work

  1. Most importantly, the content needs to be better weighted. (cf. Weighting Content on Your Website). Most of the text is in the same (too small) font size, so important links or sections get lost in the wash. Without clear cues to what is important or should be read, a visitor to the site remains slightly confused throughout, and is even more likely to miss something that is important later on.
  2. The site is not very accessible. No HTML heading tags are used, not even an H1 at the top of each page. Using headings is one of the fundamental rules of good web design. It will also help solve problem #1.
  3. PDFs. PDFs are not open government data, and all of the checkbook warrants on the Jefferson County site are in PDF. They’re easy, but they aren’t transparent. (cf. the Sunlight Labs post on why Adobe is Bad for Government).
  4. The data manipulation tools are buried under a seemingly random icon, and the documentation isn’t very useful. At least there is some, though.

The Jefferson County Transparency site is off to an admirable start, and the commissioners’ commitment to continue to improve its offerings illustrates the need for progressive, high-level executive buy-in to implement something of this magnitude. Though the layout and organization of the site needs significant refinement, this is still the most interesting thing I’ve seen a local government do in some time.

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