Local governments are responsible for shaping policies and programs that directly affect citizens. But with more than 89,000 local governments in the United States with no standardized way of communicating with citizens, it is often difficult for citizens to receive important updates, understand how their elected officials are working for them and find crucial information related to their local government.
I collaborated on this project remotely with a team of two other UX researchers/ designers and took part in the research, ideation, wireframing, prototyping and usability testing
The main goal was to facilitate digital connection between people and their city government in order to bridge the communication gap by providing a centralized, unbiased place to access civic information in plain terms as well as a way to interact with local government.
We had a total of five weeks to complete this project
Our plan consisted of conducting both market research as well as user research. Our hypothesis assumed that government sites were difficult to use so it was important to validate this assumption and if true, determine what exactly makes them difficult to use. We came up with the following research questions to help guide us
How is government information organized?
• What differences are there between city/borough/district-wide information?
• What websites currently exist?
What do users consider to be the most important government information to access?
• How involved do users want to be in their local government?
• Are users looking for information related to their city or borough?
• Where in government do users want to voice their opinions?
Are current government sites outdated and difficult to use? Why?
• How do users currently access government information?
• How do those government websites currently organize information?
• User pain/pleasure points when accessing government information
Do users want to be involved and informed about their local gov?
• How can users participate in their local government?
• What does transparency from the government mean to users?
• How can the government integrate and listen to user voices using technology?
We focused mainly on sites where one could find information about New York. This included the New York City site, New York state site, Rochester site as well as the New York Times and Twitter.
NYC.gov is the main government site used to access information about New York City. In order to cater to the population of 8.3 million people, the site must cover a wide variety of information. In order to make information easier to find, it is split up into categories and then further categorized into subcategories. Important information, however, becomes buried and can take several clicks to find.
The New York state site covers a more higher level of state related stuff rather than city specific. Like NYC.gov, information gets buried deep beneath menus. In some cases, important information is almost impossible to find and not where one would expect it
• Mostly city and state specific sites
• Very few neighborhood specific resources
• There is room for more locally focused (neighborhood), and specialized site
• Sites cluttered and difficult to navigate
• Important information often buried
• Present a broad range of information
• General lack of hierarchy
• Important information was often accessed most easily through search
We surveyed 109 people over the age of 18 who either lived in New York or commuted. I spoke to 3 out of the 9 people interviewed who were recruited from reddit and social media. Interviews were remote and conducted over Zoom. Interview and the survey included questions about the following
• Preferred method to obtain government information
• Most important and relevant local data
• Reasons for using government sites
• Accounts of experiences accessing civic data
• Opinions on how government shares information
• Barriers from accessing data
• Transparency in the government
• Involvement in local government
• Experiences contacting officials
Based on insights from the research, we created several user stories for a more in depth understanding of what the user wants and why. This provided us with a clear idea of what features were needed on the site to help the user achieve their goal.
• As an NYC citizen, I want to be more involved in the government so I can directly be involved in the decisions that affect myself and my community.
• As an NYC citizen, I want to feel connected with my local officials so that I know who to contact when there is an issue.
• As an NYC citizen, I want current updates about things like COVID-19 because it affects my everyday life.
• As a commuter, I want to check my train status so I can plan my daily commute.
• As a Brooklyn citizen, I want current information on my neighborhood so I can stay informed.
• As a citizen, I want a more engaging and accessible government so I can advocate for my beliefs.
• As a community member, I want to be more involved within my local community so I know what is going on around me.
• As a taxpayer, I want more transparency in my government so I know just how my tax dollar is being used.
• As a taxpayer, I want to vote for certain officials so that I have a say in where my tax money is going.
• As a voter, I want more information on elected officials so I know who most values my beliefs
•I made the decision to base the layout off of Twitter because interviewees indicated that Twitter was the main platform they used to find government information, but couldn't always trust because it wasn't an official source
•Users indicated that important and relevant information was often buried and difficult to find, so this design addresses this issue by providing the user with immediate access on the front page to what they indicate is most important through topic subscription
•Subscribing to relevant content also helps limit the amount of irrelevant updates users receive
Due to the lack of sites geared towards providing more local information, I focused this concept on providing users with three separate feeds for their subscribed content, information regarding their neighborhood as well as information regarding their borough. The page also displays the most recent updates in regards to their area.
•Officials have profiles on this site in which the user can subscribe to their page to get their updates
•Users have an easy way to directly message officials from this platform
Although officials have their own feeds for users to follow, users cannot like or comment on content in order to maintain credibility as Government Communication
•After the user sends a message, they receive an approximation of about how long it will take to receive a reply. This helps to create transparency
The user should receive a reply from the official or someone from their administration within to time stated. If delayed, they would receive a notification to keep them let them updated
We focused mostly on including information in the top right quadrant as that was the highest priority. Anything in the yellow closest to the edge was deemed the next most important and included for the most part.
A total of 11 users were asked to complete three tasks. Tests were done remotely with 3 being unmoderated and the rest being moderated. Think aloud as well as concurrent probing methods were used during each task and after we asked followed up questions
• Imagine that you live in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Use this site to view events happening in your neighborhood on July 21, and save one to your calendar.
• Check for updates about new laws in NYC.
• Check updates from local officials in your borough and contact Mathieu Eugene.
Users had trouble determining which navigation was the main navigation
Solution: Explore different ways to make main navigation more prominent and consider swapping locations or design
Some users felt the navigation was difficult to understand
Solution: Explore ways to simplify navigation. Moving forward with other solutions listed here will help accomplish this as well
Users were not fond of the calendar format
Solution: Explore and test different ways to present this information, such as a full calendar vs list
Users were frustrated during the calendar task because they had no idea if/when the task was complete
Solution: Add icon for feedback so user knows when the task is complete
Users felt content in the legislation section was not consistent and structured making it difficult to find new laws
Solution: Explore ways to clearly distinguish new legislation
Users wanted to see more ways to contact local officials
Solution: Add more ways to contact official on their page (phone number, email)
Users wanted to be able to view a list of the officials in their area in addition to the updates to be more informed about who they are and what area(s) they represent.
Solution: Reformat to include a list of officials that can be filtered by position and location and A/B test to see what format users prefer
The following indicates what tested well with users
• Content separated into different categories.
•Pop-up features when entering information.
•Ability to change the location that the information covers.
• Personalized content which was tailored to their needs and area
• Provides local content which is the most relevant
• Ability to directly contact an official
•Helps to stay aware of what is going on in the area politically and the convenience of getting involved.
• Updates on new laws and regulations, because this is not always known.
It’s much more insightful to have both moderated and unmoderated usability tests with complete strangers.
When a user is using a product, they won’t have someone guiding them through and unmoderated usability tests eliminate facilitator bias and non verbal queues
Make sure that the prototype is as functional as it can be
Keep focus on the function first especially this early in the product's life cycle. It's important to prototype at least the navigation on each page so that users don’t get confused or discouraged when trying to interact with the site.
Assure that tasks provide feedback so that the user knows when they’ve completed them.
Without any feedback, users have trouble determining when a task is complete. This especially affected the unmoderated tests.