Last week, team Digital Front Door held our inaugural kickoff meeting at City Hall. It was our first opportunity to meet the steering committee for the project, and we brought barely enough donuts for the 24 staff who showed up from across city departments. We had representatives from human resources, the library, the mayor’s office, the police department, parks, public works, and others. The IT department brought seven people to the meeting and participated strongly. It was a great first exchange of real needs and concerns around the project to re-work Oakland’s website redesign process. We’re grateful to Karen Boyd and Mai-Ling Garcia at the City Administrator’s Office for running the project from Oakland’s side.
We’ve been able to convene this steering group thanks to the passage of City Resolution 13-0506 (Staff Report), “A Professional Services Agreement To Code For America For Phase I And An Option To Extend The Agreement For Phase II Of The ‘Digital Front Door’ Project Which Would Modernize Oakland’s Digital Presence And Service Delivery.” The first phase of the project focuses on research and rapid prototyping. A large focus of the kickoff was to meet the leaders who will introduce us to the staff and residents we’ll need to interview. Our goal is a representative cross-section, with all of the staff responsible for web pages, and as many as 400 residents from around the city.
At CfA, we’re used to frequent check-ins on project status. We’re doing daily check-ins each morning with our partners in the City Administrator’s office, and expecting once every few weeks with the larger project steering committee. Some of the feedback we heard yesterday made us realize that staff thought they might only be consulted once: members of the IT department asked for meetings like yesterday’s once or twice per year, in the context of saying how valuable the meeting was. A very different time-scale from what we’re accustomed to. We know how busy all the city staff are, but we hope to find lightweight ways to keep the whole steering group in close touch.
Another theme that emerged was the need for continuity with existing efforts. Staff who worked on the previous redesign are justifiably proud of what a big step forward it was. We need to bring their hard-won institutional knowledge into the process we’re embarking on, while still inviting them to work in new ways. In short, it would be a mistake for us treat this as a burn-it-down, ground-up redesign. When we use a phrase like “redesign the redesign,” what we really mean is to perform the work in many incremental steps instead of one giant one, in hopes that the result will serve the city’s needs for longer.
A few other consistent ideas came up. The need for staff support for technical training and content editing; safeguards like a staging environment so staff can test changes before publishing. A strong desire to address citizen needs. The clustering of users into staff, resident, media, and (unexpectedly) city IT vendors. The simple idea of excellent site search. Responsive design and usable navigation. An experience that looks like Oakland.
These ideas begin to rough in a sketch of the goals and principles that will guide this project. We will refine them as we talk with more city staff and residents in the coming months.