From the top down

Dedicated senior executives were the driving force behind an award-winning municipal Web portal, according to a government representative.

“We had top level commitment for this concept,” said Scott Praill, director of administrative and governance services for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. “The executive management team of Chatham-Kent was briefed and approved the process and the policies we were trying to implement.

“We maintained constant communication with them. If we started to feel the organization was fragmenting in any way, we went back to the executive management team and said, ‘Now it’s time for you to reinforce the idea that this is the direction we’re going in.’ It was evident right from the start that a top level commitment from senior executives was paramount.”

The need for senior managers to use a firm hand in directing the implementation of the Web portal was due to the fact that the municipality was just three years old when committees were formed in January 2001 to improve the existing government Web site. Chatham-Kent was established in 1998 when 23 communities, 13 public utilities and five police services in southwestern Ontario were amalgamated.

“One of the first and largest challenges was creating a common vision across a new organization and to maintain grass roots commitment to that common vision so we could have a portal with municipal information on it,” Praill said. “Developing consensus at a corporate level in a relatively immature organization that has as much breadth as we have was one of the major challenges.”

However, the stakeholders involved in the process were up to the challenge and on Oct. 29, 2002, the municipal Web portal went live. In addition to information provided by public health, social services, economic development, public utilities and emergency services, the site also boasts a geographic information system (GIS), community calendar and an innovation tool known as RecConnet.

RecConnet is an online application that allows citizens in the community “to register and pay for recreational programs,” according to Joann McDonald, the municipality’s project manager of IT services. The application also allows citizens to search for, and check the availability of, the municipality’s 80 recreational facilities, which include arenas, baseball diamonds, parks, shelters and halls.

With so many partners in the portal, maintaining current information and providing it to citizens in a timely manner is extremely important, Praill said.

“Our whole goal was to remove IT as the bottleneck,” he said. “We spent a fair bit of time sorting out the workflow and building a back-end that would allow the departments to directly publish to the Web.

“For example, public health publishes directly to the Web and they are responsible for editing, authoring and maintaining all public health pages.”

Under the current model, there are 109 authors, one editor and one Web administrator responsible for material posted on the portal. While it may seem like there are many departments producing material for the site, McDonald said the model allows for the timely distribution of important information.

“With 109 people contributing [to the portal], the information is more relevant and there’s more of it,” she said.

As the popularity of Chatham-Kent’s portal continues to grow, Praill said there will be “many drivers” within the government to add services.

“We have been focusing on driving out community content as opposed to local government content,” he said. “There’s probably about 140 different services that people want to bring online. If the dollars are there, that’s what we’re going to do.”

While some services are still up in the air, residents of Chatham-Kent can expect to see the local health alliance, colleges and electricity provider online in the not too distant future. Praill says this is all part of a “no wrong doors” approach to providing information on life in the municipality.

“As a citizen I want to know that I go to to get all relative information,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who provides it.”

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