SOMERVILLE – This is no ordinary website overhaul. In the spirit of the open source movement, which makes code available for free to others, the
City of Somerville is partnering with Code for Boston, the local volunteer branch of Code for America, to work with vendors on a full, user-centered redesign of SomervilleMA.gov that other cities will be able to borrow for free from—and in turn improve on. Community members or others with web design and development skills are also being sought for the Somerville Website Inspiration & Feedback Team (SWIFT).
“Providing top quality customer service for our residents is our constant pursuit, and two of the guiding principles that allow us to do that while still spending less per capita than the majority of cities and towns in the Commonwealth are a focus on innovation and cost-efficiency. This project combines both by tapping into open source opportunities and engaging our community partners,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.
The City will save on costs by coding the redesigned SomervilleMA.gov site in the free, open source content management system Drupal, which also has numerous prebuilt modules and widgets that provide various website functions and are also open source and free. Drupal is used by an increasing number of websites at all levels of government including WhiteHouse.gov, FEMA.gov, Georgia.gov, and AustinTexas.gov. Last week, the City issued a request for proposals (RFPs) from vendors for pattern library and site templates (due Dec. 9). Additional RFPs to be issued this month will seek vendors for content migration and site development, and for community engagement and user testing. Code for Boston’s volunteer membership will serve as advisors and open source consultants for the project.
“Part of our mission is to help develop civic tech tools that address important needs for our cities and their residents. A city’s website is one of the main entry points that citizens have into their local government, and it’s critical that the interface we create between resident and government is useful, usable, accessible, and increases meaningful civic interaction in a positive way,” said Code for Boston Brigade Captain Harlan Weber. “We’re looking forward to helping the City of Somerville improve how they provide services and information to their residents, and helping them go open source.”
The SomervilleMA.gov redesign will employ and build upon the open source work and shared knowledge provided by other cities. Insights during development will also be gleaned from Code for America’s Digital Front Door project, aimed at creating more user-centered municipal websites. In turn, the City aims to make everything produced—from the design elements to the website code—available on Github.com for other cities to use. All elements will be responsive and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
“Many cities have similar needs for their websites, yet for the most part, we all have been facing the costs of redesigns individually, each time reinventing the wheel. Going open source means we can more easily collaborate and pool resources and thus more affordably stay up-to-date, which should make using our website easier to use for residents for the long haul,” said Denise Taylor, Director of Communications and Community Engagement.
Submit a Vendor Proposal or Volunteer for SWIFT
Vendors who wish to submit proposals can find information at Somervillema.gov/reboot/and should request to be added to the vendor list to have the remaining website RFPs and updates emailed to them directly. The deadline for the first of the several RFPs is Tuesday, Dec. 9. Vendors with questions should contact Michael Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SWIFT will meet once or twice monthly through 2015 (depending on the phase of the project) to advise on the project and help facilitate the gathering of community input and feedback. Meetings will be both by Google Hangouts and in person. Please apply by emailing a brief statement of interest and your resume (or a link to your LinkedIn portfolio or online credentials) to Denise Taylor at email@example.com by Thursday, December 11. Both community members and others with strong skills and enthusiasm for the project are sought for this team.