Tools for Online Engagement

Arvada's E-Government

Arvada, Colorado 
Population: 106,000 
Contact: Chris Longshore, Information Systems Manager for the City of Arvada, (720) 898-7870,clongshore@arvada.org

The City of Arvada focuses on providing citizens with 24/7 access to City Hall through its online services. Various tools are in place to communicate with citizens through their choice of medium - phone, website, social media and/or mobile applications. A vast array of Web 2.0 tools are currently in use, and the city has its own YouTube channel. 

To ensure that these systems are transparent and user friendly, the city convened citizens, employees, elected officials and others to help design the city's website and online services. The most popular feature on the site is ASK Arvada. This tool allows citizens to either search for answers in a large frequently asked questions (FAQ) database or to request services through the Web, which are routed automatically to the proper department for resolution. Many of the city's council sessions and planning meetings are recorded and made available as podcasts. 

The site also allows access to a community partner directory. Service companies, businesses, faith institutions and other organizations can register and update their profiles. A unique feature within the directory is that residents are able to post comments about services they received from the businesses and organizations listed in the directory. 

Juggle.com, an online encyclopedia and reference resource, recently granted the city's website, Arvada.org, the Top Local Government Website Award for its outstanding online advocacy for local businesses and the community.

Virtual Interactive Planner (VIP)

Cary, North Carolina 
Population: 135,000 
Contact: Dan Matthys, Communication and Information Planner, (919) 380-2774,dan.matthys@townofcary.org

The Town of Cary launched the Virtual Interactive Planner (VIP) in 2010. This online tool helps guide citizens and other customers through the town's development process. The planner allows customers to obtain information about the town's development plans by entering an address or other identifying information about a property. Based on the information entered, the program interfaces with the town's GIS (Geographic Information System) and displays the path of development for that site. Customers have a choice of using an animated version or a text-only version of the user interface. In addition, VIP provides residents with development-related resources, such as downloadable applications, fee schedules, definitions, information about properties and other useful links. 

The idea of the program began in 2008 when the Cary Town Council held discussions regarding ways to better communicate the development process to developers and citizens. The council gave direction to the town's staff to develop a program that would address the issue. The staff, in collaboration with CRI Designs of Raleigh, a private IT company, developed and launched VIP. Residents who were members of the town's Information Services Advisory Board and the Planning and Zoning Board tested the program. 

The project was designed, developed and implemented over a period of 18 months with a budget of $57,000. The developers of the program formulated the following goals for the program:

  • Provide easy-to-understand information about the town's development process; and
  • Provide access to development-related resources as a means to reduce town staff time in responding to routine questions about the development.

Both of these goals have been achieved. For example, since the launch of VIP, phone calls to the Development Department have been reduced by about 40 percent. Also, citizens report being highly satisfied with the new system. From January 2010 to July 2010, VIP logged more than 4,000 viewers from 49 states in the US and 43 countries. The majority of those visits were made by repeat users. 

Currently, VIP serves the needs of the town's residents and developers. It can be found online athttp://vip.townofcary.org/standard/. VIP has been recognized as one of the first systems of its kind across the nation. In the future, developers are planning to include a live-chat feature to the program and create a mobile version of it. 

The program recently won first place award at the North Carolina City and County Communicators conference under the Service Delivery category. It was also showcased as part of the NLC City Showcase at the 2011 Congress of Cities and Exposition.