Category Archives: Social Media

Learning New Skills at Civic Design Camp – Chicago 2015

At today's Civic Design Camp not only did I pick up a few choice bits of advice and skills to add to my civic toolbox, but I also was able to meet and network with some great people including Josh Kalov who I first met at CityCamp in Chicago back in 2010.

 

Introduction and First Session

The day started out with an introduction by Cyd Harrell, product director for Code for America, and Christopher Whitaker, brigade coordinator for the midwest region of Code for America. Whitaker is also a consultant for Smart Chicago and helps co-host Open Gov Hack Night in Chicago. After introductions, the discussion was turned over to Raphael Villas who was a Presidential Innovation Fellow and is now with 18F, a group within GSA providing digital services to the Federal government. Villas explained how he made the move from the private to public sector and showcased a few of the projects with which 18F is involved. 

Civic Design Camp 18F Presentation

These projects include:

Communicart – an online service to assist holders of Federal credit cards with purchase approvals and tracking.

MyUSA – a single sign-in service connecting citizens with the U.S. government. The project is still in Alpha, but when finished can assist in linking citizens with any application designed to accept this single sign-on.

USCIS – 18F is working on a streamlined version of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. This new site will better direct users to the type of information they are looking for. If you visit the site, you will see it now immediately asks the user the status of their citizenship and offers possible actions or questions.

Let Girls Learn – this site provides information about the collaborative effort between the First Lady and the Peace Corps to promote learning among adolescent girls.

If you want to follow up and learn more about 18F or want to check out their code, you can visit their Github page at https://github.com/18f or their Dashboard at https://18f.gsa.gov/dashboard/.

 

Visual Design Basics

Next up was Molly McLeod who is with Code for America. She shared with us several good tips for making government documents, forms, and other media more user friendly. I kept thinking throughout her whole presentation how helpful it would be if the engineering industry was given more instruction in this area of study. Many engineers are tasked with preparing documents for use by government agencies, yet most have not had any formal instruction on writing or visual design. The lack of skills in these areas can cause a reader of those documents to either not even bother reading them because it is just too painful to fight through, or the lack of organization and disregard for the end user can leave the reader thinking the author lacks credibility. This lack of credibility can then translate to the government agency for which the document was prepared. So, to improve government documents, designers should always, before writing or preparing anything, answer the questions McLeod posed:

  • Who are your users?
  • What do they need to know?
  • What is the order they need to know it?
  • What are the action steps?

The next step is to make sure you are providing answers to the questions your users might have such as:

  • Am I eligible/is this relevant to me?
  • What info/materials do I need on hand?
  • How long will it take?
  • Key details: deadlines/when/where?

McLeod also offered content tips taken from the Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent. And even though the information is focused on communicating information to voters, most of the tips apply to any type of instruction given in a government document. (You can check out the guides yourself by following the link.) Below is a photo of a redesign McLeod did of her county's instructions to voters. If you visit her blog post about this topic, "Let's Respectfully Redesign Government," you can learn more about this redesign and see a side-by-side comparison of her design with the original set of instructions.

Civic Design Camp Visual Design Example

Prototyping Websites using Github Pages

Cathy Deng next showed us how she uses Github Pages to prototype websites. But the added bonus in this session were the other tools she touched on that can also be used to improve or assist in creating sites. While I've worked with website development since the early 1990s and was familiar with Github, these were all tools I have not yet used so it was great to learn about all of them and see a live demo of their features. To start, Deng showed us how to easily set up a website using Github Pages. Basically all you need is a Github account. After that you can follow the directions on the Github Pages site to set up your own website through your account. Here is a link to the very basic site I set up on my own account within only a few minutes following the example: My-Website.

Deng then showed us how we can test out changes to the site's code in Codepen. This tool, which is shown in the screenshot below, allows the user to paste code into the appropriate section – HTML, CSS,  or JS – and immediately preview how it will look in the browser.

Codepen Website Screenshot

The other tool she shared was Bootstrap Components. This site lists many of the items you might want to place on your website such as dropdowns, button groups, headers, progress bars, and many others. If you find the one you want, the code is listed so you can copy and paste it into the code for your site.

The last tool Deng brought into play was Font Awesome. This site, which is also hosted on GitHub, offers numerous vector icons that are scalable and can be added to your site. You can either download them and add them yourself, or you can copy and paste the code that links to the icon on Font Awesome. As the site indicates, "Font Awesome is fully open source and is GPL friendly." You can view Deng's final, simple site she coded during the presentation here http://cathydeng.github.io/my-website/ and access it on Github here https://github.com/cathydeng/my-website if you are interested in forking it over to your own account and experimenting with the code.

Civic User Testing Group

The final presentation I saw was given by Sonia Marziano who is with Smart Chicago and more specifically manages CUTGroup, a civic user testing group in the city of Chicago. Marziano explained how her group arranges testing of websites for developers. Their testing group consists of about 800 residents in the city representing all 50 wards and all 77 neighborhoods. Each participant in the group receives a $5 gift card for signing up and $20 each time they participate in a test.

If you visit the CUTGroup page on the Smart Chicago website, which is separate from the CUTGroup website, you'll find a listing of all the sites the group has tested so far along with very detailed reports analyzing the test results. Marziano was asked if she knew of developers using these results to assist in building better websites. While she wasn't specifically aware of anyone doing that, she did indicate there is enough detail in the write-ups that they could be used for this purpose and believed it would be a great use of the reports. For example, below is the final report from their testing of the Chicago Works for You Website (as an aside, if you haven't ever seen this site, it's worth clicking on over to check it out how Chicago reports their public works related service requests and to see the frequency at which those types of requests are received). I included this one because it focuses on public works related services. If you have a similar site, it might be helpful to read through the user group's reactions and thoughts about their experience with the site:

Marziano also shared some general, overall observations from their testing such as they found very few people click on popovers and that people don't like to have to sign up to access information. She said users will do everything possible to avoid having to share their personal information. They also realized from testing that for autotweets sent to a Twitter user based on specific terms used by that person in a Tweet, it is important to include these types of elements in the autotweet:

  • compassion
  • a question
  • an official element

So for example, if someone sends out a Tweet mentioning food poisoning in the city of Chicago, Foodborne Chicago will send an autotweet that is similar to the following:

"@twitteruser Sorry to hear you're ill. The Chicago health department can help.  https://t.co/kTBNsEJriH"

 

Final Presentations

I did miss the final presentations because I had to take off to get home in time for other commitments. However, based on posts by other attendees, it looks like the final presentations covered discussion about the Design Thinking for Libraries Website and gifs.

 

Off-line takeaways

As always in addition to the more formal presentations, I usually pick up some good stuff from others who I meet at an event. Because I was fortunate enough to sit at a table with others who are involved in the transportation industry, I learned a lot about what is going on with Chicago transportation and city business and found out about a few other websites that offer great information. Below are the sites Steve Vance, Abraham Emmanuel, and Josh Kalov shared with me:

Chicago Traffic Tracker – the benefit of this site is the regional map shown in the upper left corner. This small map gives a good overview of the congestion or traffic in an area of Chicago. It can also show how this compares to what is typical for that location and time and it can predict over a 12-hour time period how it will change.

Cook County Property Tax Portal – this site is useful if you have an address or PIN number for a parcel in Cook County. The information offered includes standard property tax information and a listing of the last few property transactions taken from the Recorder's office.

Chicago Cityscape – this site offers information about building permit and business licensing activity in the city of Chicago.

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Running Toilets Get Their Own 5K Race!

Running Toilet
Catch a Running Toilet in a 5K Race Near You!

The EPA has been promoting Fix-a-Leak Week (March 16-22, 2015) for the past seven years. But like many issues in public works, sometimes it is difficult to drive awareness and attract people's attention to the message. Even with great social media resources and a topic that left ignored could mean a loss of money, it's still not easy for a message like this to stand out in today's constant stream of information. So some communities are taking a different and innovative approach by promoting the problem of running water with a 5K Run, and a few races will even include a running toilet.

If you manage a water system and have been looking for an idea for getting your message out about Fix-a-Leak, you can check out the races listed at the end of this post and consider organizing something similar in your own community. As the popularity of the race in Roswell, Ga., shows, your one event can end up reaching 800 people from your community. If the idea of a race is too much for your staff to manage on their own with the often limited time and resources available, you can follow the lead of Fort Worth, Texas, and partner with a local running group or club to help organize and host your run.

Many of the communities also enhance their event by incorporating social media. A few have created videos to promote their run (included with each listing below) or encouraged participants to use social media to post photos of themselves running in the race. Some of the races are themed and include a costume contest. At least one of the races offers a prize to a random person who posts on social media something they learned from the event. And others, including the one in Fort Worth, have also arranged for groups such as the EPA, local water conservation organizations, and local hardware or plumbing companies to set up information booths at the race. What better way to raise awareness, offer information, and have some fun!?

 

Races Promoting Fix-a-Leak Week:

Arizona

Peoria: One for Water 4-miler, Saturday, March 21, 2015

California

Santa Rosa: St. Patrick's Day 5K, Sunday, March 15, 2015

Georgia

Roswell: Water Drop Dash, Saturday, March 21, 2015

 

Texas

Fort Worth: Chasing Leaks 5K Run/Walk, Sunday, March 15, 2015

Plano: Chasing Leaks Fun Run, Saturday, March 14, 2015

Virginia

Charlottesville: Fix-A-Leak Family 5K, Sunday, March 22, 2015

 

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WATERCON2014

This year I am fortunate to again have the opportunity to attend WATERCON in Springfield, Ill.It's amazing how every year the conference offers so many great sessions, and the exhibitors always have such interesting displays and information. In addition to attending sessions and talking with vendors, I'll be posting as much as I can on several social media sites so that all of you can follow as much of the conference as possible. Because most of these sites are already listed in a blog post over at the Watercon blog site, I won't list them again here. Instead I encourage you to visit over there. And if you're attending too, I'll be looking for your own posts and photos from the event!

One added treat is a virtual expo we set up to try out that technology. Here's an image of the entry screen – you can find the link to visit the expo over on the Watercon site.

Watercon Virtual Expo Image 

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Infographic of the Month – February 2014 (Snapchat!)

Over the last month or so I've gotten several inquiries from people who were wondering about Snapchat – a newer social media tool most often used as an app on a mobile device. The idea behind Snapchat is for you to send an image with or without a message to either all of your followers or a select few. What makes Snapchat different than other social media tools offering similar capabilities is that the image disappears within a given amount of time. So the only way someone can archive it is to take a screenshot of it. While I admit to not using it a lot myself, I'm familiar with it because my kids use it constantly to send photos and texts to their friends, and the younger people at work use it to communicate sometimes instead of texting. 

As you can see from the infographic it is a great tool to reach out to the teen crowd. If a public works agency or industry brand wanted to launch an educational campaign targeted at that age group, it might be worth checking it out.  My concern with promoting it as a communication tool for government agencies is that the message/image is not archived. So I am not sure the use of Snapchat would allow us to meet laws that require storage and retreival of our communications.

I could see a private firm or company using it to send photos of an inspection or field check if the purpose was to only give those in the office a quick view of the site. But because the image would not last, those receiving it would have to make sure to take a screenshot and save it if those images were needed for later referral. 

If someone out there has been successfully using it in engineering or public works, send us the info, and we'll post it on the blog!

 

Snapchat Infographic

 

Brought to you by Social Marketing Software by Marketo

 

 

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Winter Weather Safety – Resources for Braving the Storm of 2014

NOAA Frostbite Poster

Central and eastern sections of the U.S. have experienced snowfall and in some areas record cold over the last day or so. In a few locations, the temperatures have been so low that it has become dangerous to even be outside. However many government workers who provide essential services like police, fire, and snow removal still must brave the cold. If your government is looking for resources to help educate your community about staying safe during extreme weather conditions or if you are looking for information to give your workers to help them stay safe, check out the following agency sites for some winter survival tips:

CDC:

Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety – this guide combines all of the key content of the CDC Winter Weather website into one downloadable, printable file. The CDC also has infographics, brochures, audiocasts, and other resources you can download and use in your public service messages. You can access this information through the sidebar at the link posted.

 

FEMA:

WINTER STORMS & EXTREME COLD site – here you can find many tips and advice for before, during, and after a winter storm

Winter Fire Safety – The US Fire Administration has some great resources to get the word out about fire safety during winter weather. They offer an infographic and social media messages and statistics you can post along with videos, audiocasts, and banners like the one at the bottom of this post.

 

NOAA: In addition to linking to NOAA's forecast page for your area, you can access and use the many resources NOAA offers on their site.

 

AAA: Tips for Safe Winter Driving Video – the video below was found on YouTube and can be embedded on websites or social media pages to offer citizens winter driving tips. You can also do a general search of YouTube to find other videos offering similar advice.

 

Additional Resources:

It's also useful to share the following types of information with the public. If you don't already have this information readily available, you can usually find it by searching on Google or Bing for the term and the name of your state or city and then offering the link for your local information. Also, some of this information may already be available from other departments at your city.

 

Warming Centers – It is common during winter storms to lose power. When that happens, you don't people wondering where they can go to keep warm. So it's useful to post this information ahead of time either on your website or on social media to remind people if they lose power, there are places they can go to avoid the cold. Here is the link to the one I found for our state by searching on Google for "warming centers" in Illinois: Keep Warm Illinois

Closings and Cancellations – extreme winter weather often results in closings and cancellations. If people can find out about these ahead of time, it might keep them from trying to head out in dangerous conditions. You can usually find a link to a site posting these by searching on Google or Bing and adding the name of your city or area in the search space. If your local radio or newspaper sites post a page with these, you can post a link to their page or you can always direct people to listen for closings and cancellations on a station if you know they announce them at regular times throughout the day. 

Pet Care Tips – The Humane Society offers tips and advice on how to take care of pets and wildlife during the winter. Providing a link to their site or to sites of similar organizations can help people keep their pets safe.

Frozen pipes or water meters – sometimes extreme cold can cause pipes or water meters to freeze. Because the process for dealing with this varies from agency to agency, you will need to prepare this information based on how your own area handles this type of issue. The typical type of advice to offer is:

  • How to find and turn off your main water valve in your home
  • Information about keeping drafts off pipes and other steps that can be taken to prevent frozen lines
  • Tips for thawing pipes
  • A number to call for help or information

Snow plowing updates – many communities now post regular updates on where plows are or which roads are open or closed and where there are parking bans. Again, this is highly localized information that is usually obtained by the public works department. Here are some examples of what other communities offer to keep citizens updated on road conditions and snow plowing operations:

 

Winter Storm Fire Safety

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