“Intro to Alpha” is a series of posts designed to introduce details of the City’s redesign of phila.gov, and the philosophy behind it.  Some posts are detailed in nature and intended for technologists, while others are intended for a more general audience.

How did we get here?

For over a decade, much of phila.gov and other web tools were designed first to meet the needs of government, not the public. This is why:

  • Phila.gov is organized by department—because we think that way, even though it can be very confusing to the public.
  • Much of our content feels like a brochure—because it’s about government, not about how government can serve.
  • Phila.gov has over 66,000 pages and documents, many of which are not viewed —because it’s easier to create content that we think is useful instead of really understanding public needs.
  • Information about property is spread across five different web applications—because it is easier to force the public to use many applications instead of doing the work to break down silos and consolidate information.

Why does this matter?

It matters because our users deserve better. Actually, that’s not quite right. Our neighbors deserve better, because for city government, the user is our neighbor.

The web is a powerful tool that government can use to serve the public when it is designed around the needs of the users. It benefits the public, but also the government, when people can easily find information or accomplish a task online.

  • Understanding user needs means that we can put information on phila.gov that will truly benefit the public.
  • When people can find what they’re looking for in the place they expect it, we save them time and frustration, which communicates respect for people and their time.
  • Accessible information, both for non-English speakers and those with visual impairments, means phila.gov can actually work for everyone.
  • Providing a well-designed interface for mobile devices means that more people can access City information and services, even if they don’t have access to the internet via a computer.
  • Clear and well-organized information reduces the need for people to call the City to ask a question, saving both time and money.

What are we doing about it?

We need a new approach to designing and maintaining phila.gov if we wish to have a new outcome. Upcoming posts in the Intro to Alpha series will dive deeply into our approach, including our user research, design principles, technology stack, department collaborations, and more. Our hope is to keep Philadelphians informed about how the City is using technology to better serve them, and help municipalities around the country learn from our work.