The unified government of Indianapolis and Marion County has begun an initiative centered on building a “digital city hall” in an effort to modernize its public services and transform its web presence beyond superficial improvements.
The City of Indianapolis and Marion County are equal parts of a “unigovernment” formed in 1970, with each entity sharing public services with the other. The first step of the government’s modernization initiative — labeled “Shift Indy” — is a complete overhaul of its website, which is intended to ease the burden for citizens attempting to access public services and forms. Currently, public information requests, a deduction search feature, and interactive mortgage and homestead deductions are the only features available on the new pilot website, which was launched in May. But citizens can expect new services and website enhancements to be added on a quarterly basis, according to a press release announcing the project.
“The roll-out of these first four services is a significant step in creating an open and transparent government that gives residents easier access to public records, documents and information,” city Chief Information Officer Ken Clark said in a statement.
Indianapolis and Marion County chief communications officer Abbey Brands told StateScoop the project is a way to equally support the needs of the county and the city.
“Looking at the website, it became this idea of, ‘We could easily rebrand it and make it look nice — you know, just clean up what we have. Or, we could really rethink how we serve citizens,’” she said. “It became a lot deeper than just making a pretty website when you start realizing how many paper forms we have …, which is something that isn’t interactive and that somebody has to print out, fill out and mail back in.”
Shift Indy is being led by the Information Services Agency (ISA), which serves as the IT department for the city and county and an effective middle ground for prioritizing the needs of both city and county residents.
The initial website redesign had a small scope, Brands said, but both the city and county quickly realized the necessity of digital modernization for its citizens. The city and county’s old website was outdated and lacked any interactive features or an easy-to-navigate interface, Brands said, and it was failing to serve either citizens or government.
To get things started, officials met with agencies and stakeholders to guide development. Brands said they had a list of more than 1,000 requirements after their initial meetings. To include the community, the government next took stock of feature requests and concerns from citizens, community organizations and the private sector.
“We had a vendor reach out to external groups — local businesses, organizations, our chamber and local nonprofits — to try to see how they interact with the website and what they would need in the site,” Brands said.
ISA reports it has identified multiple strategies to best coordinate the new website features with citizen, agency and department requests. Assessing how and why citizens obtain government forms, input and validate information and access data online have heavily influenced the technology department’s work with other agencies and departments in building the website, she said.
The city has not formally announced other projects under the Shift Indy initiative, but a kiosk installation program that would enable residents to pay bills remotely and other digital modernization projects, Brands said, could come soon.