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Cook County puts services first with new website

Thursday, July 07, 2016
Daily Herald

With its new website, Cook County wants to make it easier for you to find a lost pet, apply for a job or request a birth certificate.

And to do that, the county worked with a Chicago-based public tech group that expanded its membership to include hundreds of county residents who tested the website.

The redesignedcookcountyil.gov"puts the user first by focusing on services," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday during a news conference unveiling the new site. "Not on who does what."

Often, government websites will be organized by agency, forcing users to search for services by clicking through or past biographies of the people who run each department.

Cook County took a different approach with its new website.

The front page features a large search box with the words "How can Cook County help you today?" Typing in the box brings up suggested search terms, and search results are returned in a modern, usable format.

The results can be filtered by type, such as documents or news. Below that appears a list of services related to the search terms.

Kathy Lynch, information technology communications manager, said the goal was to provide a clean and engaging experience for website users.

The first main menu item reflects that idea with the title "I want to." Opening that menu reveals commonly requested services organized as finishing that sentence: "I want to apply for a job" or "I want to pay for a car sticker."

Next to that menu are ones that list services for residents or businesses. The focus on services is reinforced with another menu at the top that leads to a page where services are organized by topic, like "Budget and Financial" or "Community and Family Support."

If someone wants to search by agency, those pages still can be found. But they've been updated as well.

Each agency page has location and contact information. It lists the services that agency offers as well a section called "Transparency" that holds documents about that agency. Go to theCook County Animal and Rabies Controlpage and you'll find a document called "Performance Management Report."

There also are links to related agencies and a list of upcoming events -- events that also show up on a main calendar.

That interconnectivity is by design. Lynch said the intent is to use links contextually, whether it's to an agency within the county, a document held at thedatacatalogor even to another government website. The idea is to help county residents quickly find what they need.

The site adjusts to view easily on a desktop computer as well as mobile devices. Holding up a smartphone, Lynch said, "A lot of times this is the only way people get to the internet."

And with almost 10,000 people a day coming to the site, she said officials will constantly examine how people use and find information.

To that end, the county worked withSmart Chicago, a civic organization housed at the Chicago Community Trust that works to improve the quality of life for residents through better online access.

Smart Chicago brought their army of testers to the project and provided feedback on how they used the website. Project Coordinator Sonja Marziano said the work gave them the opportunity to expand their reach beyond Chicago. The organization is now working with several countywide entities, among them the forest preserve district.

Residents interested in joining the Civic User Testing Group can sign up atwww.cutgroup.org.



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