City Council Examines Website, IT

Administration discusses ways to make council website more user-friendly

The Cambridge City Council held an informal roundtable last night to discuss improvements and modifications to the City’s website.

City Manager Robert W. Healy and members of Cambridge’s Information Technology Department presented the council with a series of updates to the city’s website that aim to make interaction with local government more accessible and user-friendly.

The Assessing Department has made all of its property data and GIS information—a form of electronic geographic information—publicly accessible, integrating the data to connect with outside sources such as Google Maps.

Both the municipal and public library websites have been improved to allow users to search for events by type and location.

Political junkies can now live-stream the City Council Meetings on their iPhones or embed meeting video segments into email messages or blog posts.

Vice Mayor Henrietta S. Davis, who chaired the roundtable, used her iPhone to illustrate the functionality of the new website.

Various city entities, such as the Arts Council and the library, are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to update residents about upcoming events. The Department of Public Works is also piloting a program for residents to report potholes online.

Councilor Marjorie C. Decker asked the administration to look in to integrating ways in which constituents can track complaints and interact with local officials. Healy responded that more time was needed to design a system that could filter complaints and, if applicable, direct them to relevant agencies.

When Decker questioned the city manager as to why Boston has a more advanced complaint system, Healy responded that “[Boston has] a better PR system,” adding that Boston’s Citizens Connect is also quite basic.

“At some point, producing data produces more work than doing the work,” Healy said.

“Work with me here,” said Decker as she asked the administration to produce a clearer timeline for new program development. City officials responded that development of other reporting methods would be easy after the initial pilot program.

Councilor Leland Cheung, who blogged about the meeting beforehand, followed up on the conversation adding that the IT Department is “chronically underfunded” compared to other city resources.

“To be an open and accessible government, we need to meet people where they are, and where they are is online,” Cheung said.

Councilor Craig E. Kelley said that acting on resident complaints is more important than tracking complaint statuses.

“I think we’ll go broke if we are trying to keep up with technology,” he said.

No votes were taken at last night’s roundtable discussion.

—Staff writer David H.A. LeBoeuf can be reached at leboeuf@college.harvard.edu.

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