NC Digital Commons

NC “Mobile First” – Digital Front Door Project Series

Cary, NC – Cary, NC – This is the third article in our series of the new paradigm for redeveloping municipal websites. We will bring you stories of the innovative things people are doing in this space. This article is about the Digital Commons Project at the State of North Carolina.

NC Digital Commons Project and State Agency Websites are Getting a Facelift, Going Mobile

The state is working to improve its web presence, not just for, but for state agencies as well. We’re calling it the Digital Commons Project, with the goal of better customer service by improving user experience.

The Digital Commons Project provides cabinet agencies with the resources to have a modern, mobile-ready website that is better able to meet the needs of the citizen. For the first time, cabinet agencies are working together to provide predictable navigation, content that is easier to manage and that is better maintained, and a modern means to create and maintain websites. Websites will have robust functionality combined with a clean look and feel that functions on desktops, tablets and smartphones. A “mobile-first” approach will ensure websites work just as well on a small screen as on a large one. Designs will be consistent while allowing the flexibility for each agency site to have its own personality.

Why Mobile-First?

Many people in North Carolina do not have access to broadband or PC’s and for these people their smartphone is their access to the Internet. Designing for the smaller screen format first is important so all these people can access your content and interact with your websites. It is much easier to start small and add additional content for those with bigger screen sizes, than it is to try and shrink a website that was developed for the PC’s and have it be usable on a smartphone.

Brendan Morrisey, the CEO of Netsertive, recently presented the reality that mobile devices are currently outselling PC’s four to one, an impressive market penetration from their introduction in 2006. Brendan’s message is that you have to react to the innovations in the marketplace or you will be left behind. (Brendan’s presentation on innovation was given at the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting an Friday, January 30, 2015. There was a lot of great information in the presentation and we will try to bring some of that content to our readers soon.)

For both the reasons of lack of broadband and PC’s as well as the large scale adoption of mobile devices, “Mobile-first” is a smart strategy for the State of NC to be pursuing.

Check out the Digital Commons Project and see how you like it, also see if you like the process they are using to redesign their sites. If you find this interesting and useful, please talk to your elected officials to see if your Town or City can use a similar process for their website redesign.

Previous Tech Tank Articles in the Digital Front Door Series

Wake Forest MindMixer Site - Engage Wake Forest

Wake Forest Citizen Engagement

Wake Forest, NC – On Monday, January 19, 2015, a story on WRAL, Public invited to help with Wake Forest town manager search, pointed to the use of a powerful citizen engagement tool – MindMixer.

We certainly thank Wake Forest Town Manager Mark Williams for his service to the citizens of Wake Forest and wish him all the best in his retirement. We are also certain that the citizens of the Town of Wake Forest will be able to have their voices heard as they engage with the Town through Engage Wake Forest sharing their feedback on such things as:

  • What are the most critical challenges facing the town now and over the next two to five years?
  • What are the most important responsibilities of the manager?
  • What are the most critical competencies the town should be seeking in its next manager?

Engage Wake Forest

Engage Wake Forest is a citizen engagement tool powered by MindMixer.

The Town of Wake Forest is always looking for new ways to engage residents and community members on important topics. That’s why we’re inviting you to participate in our new social engagement site – Engage Wake Forest. This site is another way we are encouraging you to share comments and suggestions that will help us shape the future of Wake Forest.

What is MindMixer?

MindMixer GraphicMindmixer was one of several companies in the 2012 Accelerator program at Code for America.

Mindmixer offers community leaders a chance to crowdsource ideas, share assets and manage feedback

Mindmixer is a simple platform that generates a broader audience and creates more effective community participation. The app offers measurable results and invaluable insights for community leaders and elected officials.

Note: Evaluation of MindMixer was the first recommendation for the Cary Technology Task Force (TTF) “Evaluating community engagement tools such as MindMixer.” (See page 36 of the TTF final report)

GOV.UK Website

GOV.UK – Digital Front Door Project Series

Cary, NC – This is the second article in our series of the new paradigm for redeveloping municipal websites. We will bring you stories of the innovative things people are doing in this space. This article is about one of the first of this new best-in-class website redesign efforts, the development of GOV.UK.


GOV.UK is the online home of government services and information in the United Kingdom. Released in October 2012, it was the first phase in the creation of a single domain for government, addressing the needs of users previously served by several other websites. GOV.UK is a key element in the government’s Digital by Default agenda, which was instigated by Martha Lane Fox’s “Revolution, not Evolution” report and endorsed by Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude.

GOV.UK has been built and tested in public, so that feedback from real users could be gathered and fed into successive improvements. This is in stark contrast to how large government IT projects have been delivered in the past. The agile, iterative approach means that the site can rapidly accommodate new standards for development and security, catering to emerging technology platforms and user requirements. These techniques have been shown to be more effective at delivering large-scale projects for the web – in the same way that world-class services like Amazon, Google and iPlayer are built and maintained.

GOV.UK has also been built using open source technology, which means that government won’t have to pay expensive software licensing costs.

Francis Maude on GOV.UK

Francis Maude said that creating GOV.UK has required a step-change in the way government presents services and information online:

GOV.UK is focused on the needs of users, not the needs of government. It has been planned, written, organised and designed around what users need to get done, not around the ways government want them to do it – providing only the content they need and nothing superfluous. Not only is the result simpler, clearer and faster for users, it will also cost taxpayers up to £70 million less per year than the services it replaces. We anticipate further substantial savings as more departments and agencies move on to the GOV.UK platform.

In the way it has been built – and will continue to be updated and improved on the basis of experience and user feedback – GOV.UK is an example of how the civil service should keep continuously changing and improving and remain focused on outcomes. The public wants services to be delivered better, and with GOV.UK we are responding with a digital platform that makes services quicker and easier to use, and produces efficiencies for government.

Check out the GOV.UK Website and see how you like it, also see if you like the process they have used to redesign their site. If you find this interesting and useful, please talk to your elected officials to see if your Town or City can use a similar process for their website redesign.

This article is based on information from the GOV.UK Press release: “GOV.UK: making public service delivery digital by default“, first published on 17 October 2012.

Previous Tech Tank Articles in the Digital Front Door Series

Tech Tank: Looking for App Reviewers

Call for App Reviewers

Cary, NC – We are looking for a few volunteers to download a new municipal app, try it out and fill out a brief survey. Android and iPhone users…

Interested? E-mail Ian Henshaw

Photo by Christian Turkoanje – under CC BY-SA 3.0

Philadelphia PA Alpha Website Redesign

Philadelphia – Digital Front Door Project Series

Cary, NC – This is the first article in our series of the new paradigm for redeveloping municipal websites. We will bring you stories of the innovative things people are doing in this space. First off is Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA has started a redesign project of their municipal website and you can see the site as it develops by going to Philadelphia is using an open iterative process to first find out how their citizens use the website, then add some design and information elements and then evaluate through web analytics how successful they are at meeting the citizen’s needs.

There is a survey on the website that they want citizens to take. The survey asks questions about what devices and where the person uses to access the website, what types of typical municipal information the user needs to find and some demographics about their neighborhood, age and language spoken at home. It is refreshing to see a survey that identifies the user and their needs first rather than asking technical questions about website structure, layout and design that most people are unable to answer properly.

Check out the Philadelphia, PA alpha site and see how you like it and if you like the process they are using to redesign the site. If you find this interesting and useful, please talk to your elected officials to see if your Town or City can use a similar process for their website redesign.



Instead of designing from our own assumptions, we will start with the needs of our neighbors, the residents of Philadelphia. We will learn how people want to use through regular usability testing and our web analytics.


Instead of designing the entire site up front, we will break down development into manageable, two week iterations. This agile process allows us to develop quickly and provides flexibility to adjust to user feedback and (inevitable) unforeseen issues.


Instead of working behind closed doors and making the public wait for a grand reveal, we will build out in the open. This is an experimental prototype, a work in progress. It’s missing content. Parts of it are confusing. The design needs work. And that’s the point. We’re starting here, knowing it’s not perfect, but with the means to continually make it better.

Other Tech Tank Digital Front Door Articles

Town of Cary Technology Task Force Report

Cary Technology Task Force Recommends

Cary, NC – In July of 2012, the Town of Cary commissioned the Technology Task Force (TTF) to study technology and engagement for the town. Over a four month period, the nine members of the original task force studied a wide scope of questions including municipal websites, mobile applications, social media, open data, video, Cary as a community tech hub, legal issues and sustainability.

The final report for the TTF was delivered in December of 2012. The report is no longer found on the Town Website, so we thought it beneficial to list the summary recommendations and then ask the reader if these recommendations are still valid.

TTF Overarching Policy Recommendations

  1. The Town should give the same care and attention to planning and implementation of our virtual properties as the Town spends on its physical properties.
  2. Adopt an Open Data and a Public API Policy
    • Critical to support “Cary is a Community Technology Hub”
    • Will allow for independent Mobile application development
  3. Make Cary a “Community Driven” Technology Hub
  4. [Vision:] Cary actively supports Technology User Groups, Hack-a-Thons, School Technology Partnerships, Code for America Brigades, etc.

    • Make Cary a location of choice for people moving into the Triangle area who are taking technology positions.
    • Will attract highly-skilled technology professionals
      • More affluent and active demographic
      • Could help balance the aging population demographic trend
    • User Groups can provide the Town advice on Technology implementation and sustainability.
    • Will have a positive influence on the development of mobile and other apps in the Town.
    • Will support Economic Development in the Town
    • Will support and promote Technology Education in the Town
  5. Promote Citizen Engagement
    • 2-Way Communication Policy
    • More people involved in the community
    • Town gains an on-going feedback mechanism
    • Claim the Town’s social media properties
  6. Develop Generation 6 Website (or Websites)
    • Integrate with Social Media Channels
    • Incorporate open data and mobile responsiveness
  7. Develop an official, simple mobile application to gain experience developing and deploying mobile applications
  8. Re-envision the Video Production Department
  9. Provide Leadership for Technology Related Legislative Issues
    • Protect our citizens from new age threats to their privacy and security.
    • Use Technology to enhance citizen participation in the decision-making process.
    • Allow us communication methods with our youth that are not public record.
  10. Encourage Partners to Adopt Parking Lot Items
    • Technology Education
    • Economic Development
Code for America Digital Front Door Initiative

Code for America Digital Front Door Initiative

Cary, NC – Code for America has undertaken the Digital Front Door Initiative, an effort to design city websites with people in mind. The approach is to be data-driven, quick, actionable, immediately relevant and decentralized.

Tech Tank will run a series looking at several cities that are redesigning the process where they recreate their City Websites. Lets look first at the principles of the Code for America Digital Front Door Initiative:

Goals for the Digital Front Door

We put together a list of nine principles for cities that want to launch a Digital Front Door. Every city that launches one agrees to:

  1. Embrace digital services as central to governing
    • Government services should be “digital by default,” available to us on the mainstream platforms and technologies we already use.
    • Services should be useful, accessible, and add value to our lives.
    • Government should do more than broadcast out. Tools should make room for interaction, feedback, and citizen participation.
  2. Design with empathy, establish trust
    • Government service design should reflect a respect for our time, dignity, and abilities.
    • When the act of renewing a driver’s license, filing a request, or getting a business license is pleasant, citizens begin to trust and appreciate government.
    • Services should be compelling enough that citizens prefer to use them.
  3. Serve everyone
    • Government services should be designed to reach as many citizens as possible regardless of income, location, language, or access to technology.
    • Government employees should get out of the building, test assumptions with real citizens, and tweak service design to improve it on a regular basis.
  4. Encourage citizen participation
    • Governments and citizens should share in decision-making and service design.
    • Services should be built to anticipate participation from employees and citizens in the design and development process.
  5. Be transparent and accountable
    • Let citizens and staff see and support what’s going on in government, whether it’s purchasing data, viewing open source code, or accessing open data portals.
    • Governments should be clear on the goals of a service and identify areas that can be measured, displayed, and improved on by employees and the public.
  6. Build for flexibility, welcome change
    • Online services are an ongoing investment that require attention and modification over time.
    • Government services should be launched as evolving pilot projects rather than one-time massive monoliths.
    • Cities should invest in ongoing research, maintenance, and development and should have the internal support to push regular technology upgrades.
  7. Create better processes and policies
    • The best government technologies should be easy-to-use and useful in a city employee’s regular work routine.
    • Government technology should reduce overall workload and increase the efficiency of city employees.
    • City policies should support the creation and deployment of better online services.
  8. Unlock the capabilities of government employees
    • Governments should expect city employees to tweak and improve on city services.
    • Innovation, technology maintenance, and service design should be a responsibility of all employees, rather than the realm of one group or department.
  9. Get value for tax dollars
    • Whether through short-term trials or pilot programs, no system or vendor solution should be deployed en masse without evidence of success.
    • When investing in technology, cities should consider their internal skills and ability to maintain and upgrade that technology in the future.
    • Governments should reduce barriers to the contracting process and encourage greater competition amongst vendors in order to increase options and drive down the cost of technology.
Code for America Logo

Code for America in NC 2015

Research Triangle, NC – 2014 was a very busy year in NC for the Code for America Brigades. In 2015, NC will continue to have a large percentage of the Code for America activities in the US.

NC Cities with Code for America Brigades 

Check out the brigade websites to see all of the cool projects that are being worked on. The best thing is that the projects are all open source and open data so they can be reused in other cities or expanded to regional efforts.

In the Triangle, the brigades take turns hosting big hack events including Triangle Open Data Day, CityCamp NC and Hack Duke while also supporting many other events during the year.

What is Code for America?

Code for America is a 501(c)3 non-profit that envisions a government by the people, for the people, that works in the 21st century.

Our programs change how we participate in government by:

  • connecting citizens and governments to design better services,
  • encouraging low-risk settings for innovation; and,
  • supporting a competitive civic tech marketplace.

What is a Code for America Brigade?

The Brigade network is an ongoing effort to deploy, maintain and sustain civic technology and open data infrastructures. Each Brigade is comprised of local volunteers and government employees who connect for regular hack nights, discussions and app development.

How Do I Get Involved?

Code for America is an open group and all can join. We need a diverse voice to be effective. Please join your local Meetup Group:

If you don’t live in any of these areas, please contact Ian Henshaw, Brigade Captain for Code for Cary and Managing Partner of Tech Tank, and he will get you connected!

Previous Tech Tank Articles on Code for America

Morrisville NC Logo

Morrisville Discusses Open Data

Morrisville, NC – At the Morrisville Town Council Meeting on August 27, 2013, Morrisville Council Member Steve Rao led a discussion on a Smart Cities Open Data Initiative (Audio file 53:17-1:06:53). Steve would like Morrisville to join in the regional efforts about Open Data, and thinks Morrisville needs to adopt an Open Data Policy. Councilor Rao added that Open Data can bring increased citizen engagement and economic development to Morrisville.

Councilor Rao suggested that Morrisville could link the Open Data effort to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding (Briefing Sheet 2013-069), to bring data that would enable the commission to make better and more informed decisions. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding was discussed at the Council meeting (Public Address 21:10-24:37, Council Comments 25:20-30:48).

Morrisville staff has worked on a Morrisville Data Portal prototype with Jason Hare, a Morrisville resident and the Open Data Program Manager in Raleigh, NC. This portal included CAMPO data that had been transformed to be machine readable.

Councilor Rao recommended that the Council direct staff to investigate an Open Data Initiative for Morrisville and come back with a briefing – a recommendation supported by a majority of the Council. The briefing is expected to include:

  • Pros/cons of Open Data
  • Recommendations with options for Council to consider
  • An Open Data Resolution
  • Cost information

130830 Morrisville

Previous Discussions in Morrisville

The discussion on August 27, was preceded by the Smarter Cities and Open Data discussion that Councilor Rao brought before the Morrisville Council on May 28, 2013.  Prior documents and reporting:

Public Technology Institute Image

Raleigh Wins Web 2.0 Award

Raleigh, NC – Public Technology Institute (PTI) supports local government executives and elected officials through research, education, executive-level consulting services and national recognition programs.

Web 2.0 and civic/social media technologies are dynamic tools for informing citizens, encouraging collaboration and engaging the public in government decision making. To recognize best practices in the use of these technologies, PTI has launched the Web 2.0 State and Local Government Awards and Recognition Program.

Recently PTI Named Raleigh as one of the 2013 Web 2.0 Winning Jurisdictions.
Raleigh was recognized for their Open Data Portal (see Press Release). Raleigh Open has previously received a significant achievement award from PTI in the 2012-2013 Technology Solutions Awards

Open Raleigh History

130826 TOD

On February 7, 2012, the Raleigh City Council unanimously adopted an Open Source Resolution. In March 2013, the Raleigh Open Data Portal was launched (see WRAL report). Since the launch there are now 100 data sets, 67 maps and 292 charts on the site which is a treasure trove for citizens and journalists.

Open Raleigh Drives the Triangle

With Raleigh in the lead, Durham, Cary and Morrisville are not far behind. There are efforts to develop Open Data programs in all of these municipalities and there is a a budding community of civic hackers ready to use this data.

There are Code for America Brigades in Raleigh, Cary and Durham and soon to be in Morrisville.

A Code for America Brigade is an organizing force for local civic engagement – a national network of civic-minded volunteers who contribute their skills toward using the web as a platform for local government and community service.

Triangle Open Data Day, to be held February 22-23, 2014, will host 300-400 civic hackers in February 2014 who will look at all the available Open Data sets in the Triangle and see what useful analysis and apps they can make from the data.

Kudos to Raleigh for jump starting the Open Data movement in the Triangle.