The year is 2007, and all you can do on the City of Reno, Nevada, website (then cityofreno.com) is pay a parking ticket, when the payment system works. About the only other interactive feature is the animated gif of the flaming building on our fire departmentâ€™s homepage.
Fast forward to present day, and Reno has transformed its online presence and is embracing Gov 2.0 to connect with citizens and put meaningful services online.
We are now Reno.gov – and you can still pay parking tickets (reliably), as well as traffic citations, court payments, sewer bills and recreation classes. You can also submit a police report and get assigned a case number, make a request through our CRM system, apply for a job and look up development permit status. We also have several RSS feeds, interactive calendars, streaming meetings, Newsroom, polls, social bookmarking tools and our most popular feature â€“ our four webcams.
As the Web Services Manager for the City of Reno, I presented a web report to our City Council a few weeks ago highlighting the dramatic increase in citizen use of our online services over the last few years.
Reno goes mobile
Reno launched a mobile site in March 2010. It provides access to Reno.gov via a smart phone through a special interface formatted to fit a cell phone screen. It is cross-platform compatible and the best part is that citizens donâ€™t have to remember a special mobile address â€“ they can just browse to Reno.gov. Emergency announcements would appear first, and news and events have been redesigned to be accessed easily.
Iâ€™m considering this â€˜phase 1â€™ of our mobile site, with phase 2 involving working with our vendors to offer mobile payment systems similar to those offered by large consumer banks. Reno worked with Vision Internet to develop the mobile site. Reno.gov is one of the first sites to use their new mobile technology.
Reno is embracing social media
The City of Renoâ€™s social media program is driven by a very small staff, but has achieved big results. Reno has more fans and followers than most local governments our size, and we are engaging more citizens than ever online. Weâ€™ve had great success using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and our Around the Arch blog. I believe our total investment has been about $200 as weâ€™ve done everything in-house.
Bloggers include myself, two PIOs, and occasionally staff experts in specific subject matter areas. Each post is transparent in identifying the author, with a link to author photo, bio and recent posts by that author. Our blog is multi-media rich, including embedded YouTube videos and Flickr photosets and visitors can rate the quality of our posts using a five star scale.
Iâ€™m working on an upgraded and redesigned version of our (WordPress) blog that will be released in a couple of weeks. The new version will feature more integration with other social media platforms, simplified administrative capabilities and will be available via reno.gov/blog.
Renoâ€™s web services team
Like many local governments, Reno only has one staff member dedicated to the website. We contract with Vision Internet for our CMS platform and web hosting. As the Web Services Manager, I coordinate and train 70 or so staff members representing every department – people who have full-time responsibilities in other areas but who post and maintain content on the web. New applications and web enhancements stem from projects across our organization and involve me in conjunction with IT and any involved departments.
Our internal Website Committee includes one staff member from each department and is a good forum for department representatives to share their online needs. We meet regularly to report on website issues and challenges and discuss new ideas.
Whatâ€™s next for Reno?
Iâ€™m excited to share whatâ€™s coming down the pipeline. Weâ€™re working with our CRM vendor on an iPhone app due to come out in the next couple months. Weâ€™re close to launching a â€œLive Chatâ€ feature on Reno.gov. A â€œgreen energy dashboardâ€ will be unveiled in June that will let citizens check out real-time energy savings from solar and wind projects around Reno and download energy data. Weâ€™re also working closely with regional agencies to create a one-stop location for northern Nevada residents to sign up for government volunteer positions. The joint effort is expected to launch in 2010.
Local governments have some very big challenges embracing Gov 2.0, due in part to limited staff and resources. My best advice to other cities is to make sure you start with a strong foundation first (CMS platform, web team, governance), while aggressively planning for the future. When I started working for the City of Reno a few years ago, staff would suggest things to me like â€œThis other city website has the mayor walk out on the screen and talk to you. We should do that.â€
Itâ€™s a challenge committing to the core elements of a solid web services program, but once established, initiatives like Gov 2.0 are that much easier to pursue.