“I don’t normally gush about things local government does, particularly Cook County. But I have to say that the county’s new website and data portal, officially rolled out today, is a first-class piece of work.”
Highly Visible and Utilized Public Website
Cook County selected Clarity Partners to implement a complete redesign of their public website, provide guidance on branding strategy, and consult county leadership on governing content.
Challenge #1 – Understand the Audience
The county’s website structure was organized from the perspective of a user that is familiar with services provided by each government agency, bureau, department, etc. This made it difficult for most county residents to find the services they were looking for, since most do not fully understand the structure of government.
Challenge #2 – Lack of Governance
The contract is owned by the Cook County Bureau of Technology, yet the responsibility to govern the content of the website internally sits on the shoulders of the communications department within the President’s office. The county needed clear guidelines on how to best manage the website amongst their internal stakeholders and external agencies.
Testing, Governance and Branding
The new Cook County website was developed on the Drupal content management system platform, an industry-leading open source system used extensively by U.S. government agencies. The open source software model was chosen to free the county from restrictive proprietary software and associated licensing fees. Drupal fosters government transparency and open data initiatives with ongoing module contributions from the public sector open source developer community. The website is hosted on the flexible, scalable and secure Amazon Web Services’ Public Cloud computing platform.
Along with designing and building the website, Clarity established branding and governance guidelines to seamlessly translate Cook County’s main website to its agencies. Clarity also provides ongoing support and maintenance.
Solution #1 – Usability Testing
Smart Chicago’s Civic User Testing Group (CUT Group) partnered with the project team to conduct usability tests with county residents during the design phase. Test results inspired and empowered the county to make significant changes to their website. As a result, the new website focuses on county services and better meets the needs of its primary users, the residents.
The site was built responsively to ensure usability on mobile, tablet and desktop devices and the code complies with WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards. Furthermore, Apache Solr’s powerful search tools allow visitors to quickly navigate through volumes of data from disparate sources to find desired information. Security features and role-based permissions provide safe access for an unlimited number of county administrators to maintain their content.
In addition, Clarity:
- Set Usability and Accessibility Guidelines
- Reviewed website analytics to understand demographics, device usage and what people were searching for
- Inventoried all county services by visiting every agency website, both internal and external to the main site
- Outlined the county organizational structure from a functional perspective
Solution #2 – Define Governance and Change Management
Clarity worked closely with the core project team to develop a website governance plan for the county so that internal stakeholders fully understood expectations, roles and responsibilities. Clarity also worked with the county to deliver ongoing internal communications to prepare for the change in website content management and governance.
Recognition and Improved Usability
Launched in June 2016, the Cook County website received rave reviews and accolades from county residents, government constituents and local media, including Crain’s Chicago Business, CBS News and Daily Herald. The website has won multiple awards, most recently the 2017 Oustanding Achievement WebAward.
“For many of us, the front door of our local government is no longer between Roman columns on an old building downtown; it’s between ‘www’ and ‘dot gov’,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
This website now allows Cook County the autonomy and ability to quickly provide mobile friendly, up-to-date information to promote its services.
“Government websites have a reputation for not being very user friendly,” Preckwinkle said. “With our new website we put the user first.”