Situation: The City of Worcester, MA is the 2nd largest city in New England and is home to a diverse pool of over 180,000 residents, 7 colleges and about 5,100 Worcester-based businesses. The City government is made up of more than 1,800 employees and over 45 different Departments and Divisions that serve countless diverse populations and audiences. The initial municipal website of Worcester was established in 1997, the second in 2002 and lastly, the most recent standing site before the 2016 redesign was adopted in 2009. This previous WorcesterMA.gov website maintained over 500 pages and was indexed by Google over 126,000 times. Audiences of the website range from residents, college students, business-owners, prospective businesses, city workers, non-resident workers, contractors, visitors and event planners to other municipalities and government organizations.
In November of 2015, AVATAR submitted and was later awarded a proposal by the City of Worcester in response of their RFP: Website Redesign Services / Technical Services, a bid seeking to acquire professional web design services to redesign the City’s official municipal website: worcesterma.gov . From the mayor’s office down, city officials recognized a drastic need for updating the site, as it was severely outdated in today’s ever-changing web environment. With the rapid increase of mobile and tablet users accessing the internet, the City realized that the old standards of a text-heavy and department hierarchy website structure was ineffective in serving the public and government officials. Furthermore, the site was becoming increasingly cumbersome for it users to access important information. In order to accommodate its users with a mobile-responsive, user-friendly platform to meet their constituent-centric needs, the City of Worcester contracted AVATAR at the start of 2016, as both web design specialist and project consultants, to undergo the task of the redesign.
Action: The Project Team was a collaborative effort between AVATAR Computing and the City’s appointed Website Redesign Team (Technical Services Department and decision-makers within the Office of the City Manager). Through joint efforts, a detailed plan was put into place to carry out a comprehensive planning, development and review process, which was then implemented throughout the duration of the project’s timeline in order to meet the intended goals. The initial phase of this project consisted of a “discovery period”, where the Project Team conducted a series of interviews within the City Departments, formulating a better understanding of their department goals and vision for the newly designed site. The Project Team organized, scheduled and facilitated dozens of interviews within the City’s wide-ranging Departments and Divisions that were identified as relevant and applicable to the site and its redesign process. In collaboration with the city, interviews were conducted providing valuable insight from individual departments, highlighting processes, inefficiencies, and ultimately a wishlist for review. In addition to internal insight, constructive feedback, and useful suggestions were gathered from Departments in regards to the new site.
AVATAR employed an agile framework for this project. The scrum process methodology included utilizing an incremental and iterative software development system and secure web tool where all interview notes, meeting minutes, and related correspondences were posted. Due to the municipal nature of content being transformed and overhauled, AVATAR adhered to a strict approval process for all public information to be populated onto the new website, thus, ensuring transparency, encouraging participation, and allowing the City to maintain full oversight of publicly releasable content. Considering the number of participants, this methodology was necessary in maintaining a responsive pulse on the needs of the project and for the development team to expedite tasks and achieve fast turnaround for point of contact input.
In addition to interviews and City data collection, an extensive amount of market research on
successful municipal sites was conducted. Coupled with a thorough analysis of worcesterma.gov ’s site metrics to gain better insight on the previous patterns and uses of the site, a substantial amount of information – relevant and particular to the City of Worcester – was gathered and used as reference for the build of the new site design. Concluding the project, a final report was drafted and delivered over to the Office of the City Manager to provide a full top-to-bottom overview of the project. Acting as a deliverable on AVATAR’s consultant piece within the project, the final report provided the City with a tangible record of the design process, important data, Department notes and feedback, as well as a series of major areas for improvement or “red flags” we identified during the discovery process.
Result: AVATAR’s professional design staff provided the City of Worcester with a welcoming, appealing design, incorporating elements that effectively represented the brand and image envisioned by the City. A standardized format was created to enhance user experience for all pages, thereby establishing a unified theme but allowing some level of individuality and/or functionality between the City Departments/Divisions. The new design presented a services-first, information-second format, enabling the City website to become a more prominent tool for its users in accessing, locating, and utilizing online city services from any device. The clean, new layout offered a mobile-responsive design enhancing user experience and allowing for all audiences, ranging from residents and students to small business-owners and government officials, better accessibility and navigation of the new site. AVATAR revived the new site with vivid local city imagery and a more efficient layout, offering better visibility and positioning for relevant and up-to-date city information, in a style that properly promotes new city initiatives and current events, while accurately capturing the City’s rich history, culture, and sense of community.
Popular online services and payment options provided by the City were promoted and made prominent on the site to its users, encouraging the reduction of the amount of foot, phone, and email traffic being funneled through the City Departments, and ultimately goal of limiting the use of unnecessary resource and streamlining workflow.