Juggle Top Government Website Award

By Juggle.com
Date: September 2010

Interview with Blaine, Minnesota
A purple award representing a top government website.
Blaine. MN.us has been recognized by Juggle as one of the top city government websites in the state of Iowa. Below you'll find an interview with Heidi Andrea, Web Coordinator for the City of Blaine.

Blaine. MN.us is a top-notch web portal; what has been your role in its development?

The City's Communications and Information Services Department, with limited resources and staff, collaborated to create a fresh new design, easily navigable, and user-friendly format. In addition, new tools and features to make it easier to share information and keep up to date with city events were added. All aspects of the site were developed in-house. I am the City of Blaine's Web Coordinator, and I manage Blaine's web standards, day-to-day web content workflow, web page development and maintenance operations.

Can you summarize the history of Blaine's web portal?

In 1997, the City's first web presence was a collaborative effort between the City of Blaine and Blaine High School providing high school students with an opportunity to learn about web development by creating a website for the City.

In 1998, the City transferred the website in-house, redesigning and launching a new site with more timely information, including agendas and minutes, and specific department pages. The site consisted of 100+ pages.

In 2004, another redesign was launched, expanding the site to 500 pages. Information contained on the site was mostly static with dynamic information added as needed. In the next 6 years, the site expanded to over 1,500 pages.

In June 2010, the most recent redesign was launched. The new site is completely dynamic and powered by a CMS developed in-house. The site currently contains 3,000+ pages. As the site has grown over the years, we continue to collect specific information for our residents, visitors, and businesses, to include in the site. We now have specific web pages designed for each segment of Blaine's web users.

What are the overarching objectives of Blaine's current e-government initiatives?

Our main goal is to provide as much information as possible to the residents, visitors, and businesses in Blaine and the Blaine area. In addition, continue to identify daily business functions that are adaptable to an online experience, following two key objectives:

Continue to improve the delivery of services
Save time and money for both City agencies and constituents.

From a marketing standpoint, what are some of the strategies that you have utilized to draw attention to the information and services provided by CI.Blaine. MN.US, both on - and off-line?
We use a number of tools to draw the users to www.ci.blaine.mn.us for more information:

Email Subscriptions - Users can subscribe to over 200 different topics ranging from Parks and Recreation Opportunities to Job Opportunities.
Alerts and Reminders: Users can sign up for email or text notifications of recycling days, crime prevention tips, sprinkling restrictions, and parking restrictions.
Social Media: We maintain 8 FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr accounts.
Bookmarking and Sharing Toolbar: With just one click, users can email a page, save it as a favorite, post to FaceBook or Twitter and connect with 250+ other services.
Cable TV: Our public access station advertises website services and information.
Print Materials: Brochures, flyers and advertisements for initiatives and events list the website for more information.
Blaine CityConnect Newsletter: Published 6 times a year directing readers back to the website for more information.
City Owned Vehicles: Website address is listed on the vehicle.

How has citizen feedback influenced the development of Blaine's e-government services?

We view each bit of citizen feedback as a mini "critique," and an opportunity to improve our communications. All pages include a "Questions and Comments" button and all feedback is received, read and evaluated.

What is the most-used feature or service on the site?

Parks and Recreation Online Catalog - Online registration application for various recreation opportunities with 4,500 active users
Online Utility Payment System - Online payment system for utility billing with 3,000+ customers paying utility bills online.
Email Subscriptions - An email subscription service providing over 200 different topics of interest with 10,000+ subscribers.
Community Calendar - Online calendar of City Hall events as well as Community Events.
Streaming Online Video - Online resource for viewing live and recorded city meetings and informational videos.

In what way has harnessing social media (FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) and blogs allowed you to connect more directly and personally with the citizens of Blaine?

We use both Facebook and Twitter to repost information from our website. For general information, we have:

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Blaine. MN Offsite Link
Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/BlaineMinnesota Offsite Link

For business-specific information, we have:

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/BlaineBizMN/126101319986?ref=ts# Offsite Link
Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/BlaineBizMN Offsite Link

For parks and recreation opportunities, we have:

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Blaine/BlaineParksMN/412344380716 Offsite Link
Twitter - http://twitter.com/BlaineParksmn Offsite Link

We also have a presence on both YouTube and Flickr, we have:

YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/cityofblaine Offsite Link
Flicker - http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofblaine / Offsite Link

How has webcasting city council meetings changed the way citizens access important government information?

The webcasting and video on demand playback of our City Council, Planning Commission, and Park Advisory Board meetings has allowed our residents to have access to the governance process in ways that are most convenient to their lives. They no longer have watch the meeting live, or played back, from a TV in Blaine (to access the local cable television feed) at the scheduled broadcast, or play back time. They can easily access a public meeting anywhere and anytime they have web access. This has allowed more young people, who don't necessarily fit into the classic government access channel demographic, to access the government process. It also allows people to follow items of interest when they are away from the community.

What has been the biggest hurdle in developing the newly revamped CI.Blaine. MN.US, and how did you overcome it?

One hurdle is keeping up to speed and taking advantage of all the available and emerging technologies with limited resources and staff. We attempted to identify those technologies that provided the most user friendly end user experience and continue to improve on those technologies as they evolve.

Where do you see e-government heading in the next 2-3 years? Are there any exciting new features or services currently in the works for Blaine's web portal?

We will continue to work towards a "Virtual City Hall" saving the city and citizen's time and money. Blaine will develop a mobile experience for convenient City Hall access.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about CI.Blaine. MN.US?

For more information, continue to visit Blaine's website for timely news and features and upcoming events.