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Digital Expert's Corner: T-Minus Six Months to Site Launch

by Kimberly Samuelson
Post Date:07/03/2017

Barbara Belli, webmaster for the City of Wilmington, was asked to deliver a redesign ASAP by senior administration. She shares her non-traditional approach and reminds us all to breathe in this edition of Digital Expert’s Corner.

What does the City of Wilmington’s website do well?

This site serves as the information hub for the city. Before we launched this site, residents would call the various departments for the information they needed. The department would then email the information. Now, we put everything on the site and direct all inquiries there.

The site is about 50% informational and 50% service delivery. We get quite a few visits for all types of applications and forms: employment, surveys, tax forms, permits. Ideally, as we move forward, we’ll be doing more service delivery.

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What are some of your goals for the website?

I’d like the website to move toward plain language. As it stands now, I think the language is a bit techie. It is sometimes difficult to get the departments to understand the point of plain language.

Also, I want to make the site more service oriented. Right now, the departments are siloed, and thinking more about who-they-are then what-they-do. I am trying to move them out of that tradition and get them to lead with the services they deliver.

When did the site launch?

June 30th of 2016. It was very much a “fast and furious” transition from the previous site. I would wager we didn’t launch in the traditional way. Our previous administration wanted to launch immediately. We pushed it out in 6 months, which is quick. I was up against quite a few deadlines.

Once we passed the contracted limit on pages, we migrated some content over. The good part was that I had the opportunity to clean up old information.

Of course, now that I have a minute I am going in and building new templates and structure. Currently, the website is in a transitional phase. There are a lot of things I would like to tweak and change, but overall it looks much better than the old website. I stood this site up fast, and now I am going back to work on all the elements. Although I worked the process backward, the pieces are falling into place.

Luckily the current administration has a better understanding of how efforts like redesigns work. Now I have a lot more time to project manage correctly.

How are decisions made about the content on the site?

With the prior administration, the departments were sending the content straight to me, and I would loop in communications team. This method was not efficient. I’m not privy to the 50,000-foot view of the senior administration, so I shouldn’t be making decisions about content. I see myself as the site administrator.

Presently, the majority of the site content comes from the mayor’s communications team to me. I wanted to ensure I set up that working structure.  First, departments request changes to the communications team. Then the communications team determines if there are additional communication or advertising channels needed like PR or social media. Involving the communications team earlier in the process ensures content is communicated from a broad-range perspective.

How did you compose your current navigation?

The navigation has been like this for years. I look at it now, and I want to change it. For some time, we’ve received feedback that residents have difficulty finding information, resulting in me getting requests to put links in multiple locations. Multiple postings of the same link aren't the best practice.  

Moving forward, in keeping with the service-oriented approach, the navigation elements may change to topics like “water issues” and “events.” The resident doesn’t know what departments offer the service; they just want to find the service. Unfortunately, at the same time, the departments want everything listed under their purview.  I’m always fighting that traditional tree format, a list of departments and then subsections and more subsections. 

The good news is that the current administration agrees with me about moving to a service-centric navigation. It’s very difficult to break people of habits, but I am very determined.

Where is the site regarding accessibility?

One of our first big steps in that direction was signing with Vision. That helped immensely. Our former website, host and programmers were not big on accessibility.

We have a mayor’s committee for accessibility called Access Wilmington (AW) and I can tap into their expertise. I build a page and can send it to the committee for feedback. AW has been around for almost 20 years, and it continues to morph as accessibility issues grow. Obviously, it started before the web  accessibility was a big issue.

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What lessons have you learned?

Have your project plan in place and have it signed off by senior administration. If there’s any blowback, you can rely on the project plan as evidence to mitigate it.

Don’t rush. You know the saying, “Do you want it done, or do you want it done, RIGHT?”

Breathe—seriously—and don’t get too stressed out.

 

If you too are under the gun and need some 411 about how to manage a successful website redesign, check out this webinar.

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