Technology Task Force #2 – The Big Brainstorm

Story by Hal Goodtree, member of Town of Cary’s Technology Task Force and the publisher of CaryCitizen.com. Cell phone photo by Hal Goodtree. Apologies to all concerned.

Cary, NC – The second meeting of Cary’s Technology Task Force could be characterized as the Big Brainstorm. The committee heard eight presentations on topics including Engagement, Open Data, Social Media, Mobile, Websites and Video, among others.

Technology Task Force 2 – The Big Brainstorm

Around 5:30 last night, we gathered in conference room 21275 upstairs in Town Hall. The second meeting of the Tech Task Force (TTF) started with the usual official business – accepting the minutes from the first meeting and the agenda for the current session.

Members of the TTF (myself included) are actually officials of the Town for the duration of our commission. Unpaid officials, I hasten to add. Nonetheless, we’re subject to the same rules and laws as other public officials – open meetings and sunshine laws in particular. Lori Bush, our Town Council liaison, talked more about this in her blog last week.

Old business: Town staff is nearly ready to launch a Delicious channel for the group. This will allow us to publicly share links we find interesting with the entire Cary community. Stay tuned for more details.

The committee was also told that we wouldn’t be able to have a public Facebook page. This came down to technical issues with many posters on one page, Facebook’s TOS and a number of other issues. It was just too thorny to navigate a good solution. For the record, I’d suggested in meeting #1 that we needed a Facebook Group, not a page. But that’s water under the bridge. Trust me, we will find ways to engage the citizenry as we do our work laying down ideas for Cary 2.0.

Citizen Engagement

A bunch of us on the committee took assignments to explore different aspects of technology and communication. Laura Hamlyn was up first to talk about engagement.

Laura and I worked on the Triangle Wiki project together. She’s currently a copywriter at Red Hat. She knows the magic formula for engagement.

Laura gave us the brief on what engagement means on the web. “The purpose of engagement,” she said, “is feedback and inclusion. Keep it real, be specific,” she added.

There’s no engagement unless it’s two-way, Laura pointed out. Otherwise, it’s just broadcasting, no?

“Show our personality a little more,” she suggested. “Be a person, not this huge force.”

But what is our personality as a community? What’s our voice? What’s our brand character? In subsequent meetings, Laura and others on the TTF will help answer those questions.

We’re also going to work on an updated Social Media Policy for the Town. Right now, the policy prohibits many types of engagement. You can’t answer someone in public on Twitter, for example. The Social Media Policy of the Town is several years old and one part of our task is to move the ball forward on updating what one might call “the rules of engagement.”

Finally, Laura’s going to lead the charge on putting together some best practices for engagement on the web.

Social Media

Eleanor Thorne next presented on the topic of social media itself – Facebook, Twitter and so on.

Eleanor is well-known as an expert on communication for the local real estate and mortgage industry. Like Laura, she voiced a concern about the need to understand our voice, our brand, monitoring and responding.

Prior to the meeting, Eleanor had done some work trying to consolidate the “Town of Cary” pages on Facebook. One such page, started a few years ago by a person unknown, has a couple of thousand followers. Another newer page was just recently started by the Town. Clearly, there can only be one official Town of Cary page and Eleanor took some action to claim that property for the community.

Eleanor had strong words against “starting a lot of channels” before we understand our voice and have a more progressive official policy on engagement in social media.

She shared a really good set of links to more information. Maybe soon, there will be a mechanism so I can share them with you.

Open API

Eric Brown talked about Open APIs. In a nutshell, Open API is the publication of data that can be used by others to create things including mobile apps, visualizations and web pages. API stands for Application Programming Interface. Think of it as a published stream that can be tapped by other programs. When CaryCitizen runs photos from Flickr in our sidebar, that’s an example of using an open API.

Eric postulated that if we published live traffic data as an Open API, someone could create an app for mobile phones to see (visualize) that data. In practical terms, you could see where traffic is the worst right now and adjust your ride home from the office accordingly.

Who might build these apps? People do it all the time. We could have a contest or award a prize for the things we want most. For the most obvious uses, developers would likely jump in without much encouragement. But these potentially useful apps will never develop without Open API.

Eric also included a massive number of good links in his presentation. I noted three in my journal:

Websites

Next, it was my turn to present some thoughts on municipal websites and the Town of Cary (ToC).

I started with a survey of ToC web properties. Town staff sent me a full list of Town-managed websites. Here are the most notable:

  • TownofCary.org – the main portal for information
  • Booth Amphitheatre – Ticket sales and info about events; produced by SMG
  • Cary VIP – a site for developers produced by CRI in Raleigh
  • Cary Bonds – a new site produced to educate voters on the bond issue that will be coming up on the ballot this November. Site produced by S&A Cherokee.

The Town also has a collection of “sub-domain” sites – that is, websites that are attached to the main property. Overall, I remarked to the committee that it’s a modest collection of properties for such a large organization in a Web 2.0 world. But, I liked the three satellite sites for their focus on specific, niche audiences. I also liked the public/private partnerships on the development of these satellite properties.

The stats on the main ToC website are also interesting:

  • 125,250 visitors in the last month
  • 351,890 pages viewed
  • 7 out of Top 10 pages viewed go to Parks and Rec pages

Conclusions: The traffic to ToC is robust and significant. There’s an audience. The “7 out of Top 10” stat may point the way for satellite properties we should consider developing going forward.

Hall of Shame, Hall of Fame

Next, I gave a lightning tour of web properties from other towns. Sad to say, Pittsburgh PA had a particularly painful website, leading the Hall of Shame.

Maybe Pittsburgh needs a Technology Task Force.

The Hall of Fame, on the other hand was quite inspiring. How about this home page from the City of Austin:

Eden Prairie, MN made the Hall of Fame. They ranked #2 on Money’s Top 100 Cities list. Cary ranked #56. Just saying.

One of my favorites was a public-private partnership for Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City:

I uploaded my whole presentation deck as a public document on Google Drive: TTF Websites v1. See it for yourself.

Mobile Apps

Brandon Smith spoke about Mobile Apps.

He gave a theoretical focus to his presentation, constructing a matrix of “Technology Engagement” –

Brandon also posed four questions to guide our research and recommendations to Town Council:

  • Who – Who are we trying to reach?
  • What – What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How – How will we do it?
  • Why – Why is it important?

Brandon closed by pointing out the importance of establishing metrics of success.

One link of interest that Brandon referred to several times was Code For America.

Video Production

It was my turn again, this time to talk about Town of Cary video.

As some of you may know, I was a television producer for 20 years before retiring to a life of leisure as an internet publisher. So this assignment was pretty straight forward – what do we have and what should we be doing with it?

Staff sent me an inventory of all the Town’s video equipment. I met for an hour with David Wolk and Randy Benson, the Town’s Government Access Channel Coordinator and Specialist respectively.

Most of the Town’s video equipment and manpower goes to recording meetings in Council Chamber, the large theater-like facility at the center of Town Hall. That facility is very well-equipped, with four remote controlled cameras, quality lighting and individual audio support for each speaker. David and Randy mix the show live – that is, they cut in graphics, control the cameras and mix sound as the meeting is happening.

They produce about 5 meetings a month including Town Council, Planning & Zoning, Planning & Development and Operations committee meetings.

All are very well done by any standard. Many other towns just set up one camera and let it roll. It’s painful to watch – four hours on one wide shot. So we’re in good shape on recording public meetings – well equipped and well-produced. I have some minor ideas about production and a few more thoughts about distribution, but overall I was favorably impressed.

The Town also has a small editing room. It’s packed with gear, not luxurious, but more than adequate to any task we might require. The team uses Final Cut Pro, a robust and creative professional tool.

Next door, there’s a small office with a green-screen setup and teleprompter. Green-screen, as almost everyone knows, is used to replace the background in a shot – “key it out.” This setup is used primarily for the production of Bud TV, the monthly series from Town of Cary.

Finally, there’s a modest location production kit – a good video camera, microphone and small light kit. The crew has use of a Chevy Blazer for location work.

Video Programming

The Town produces approximately 5 meetings each month in Council Chambers. That’s upwards of 15 hours of programming.

As well, Bud TV and Cary Matters are regular monthly productions.

Lastly, the department produces one or two location projects a month. You can see a full list on the Cary TV page.

Video has the potential to be the most persuasive tool we have to tell the story of our town while informing and engaging the community. Over the next three meetings, I’m going to investigate three things:

  1. Re-imagining Cary TV as a traditional Video Production Department
  2. Cost of beefing-up location production resources
  3. Methodology to develop new shows & projects

You can see my whole Video presentation deck on Google Drive: TTF Video v1 pdf.

Wrapping Up

The meeting was supposed to last until 7:30 but it was nearer to 8:30 when we finally adjourned.

I was excited. I hope you’re excited, too.

If you have ideas for the Tech Task Force, leave a comment or email me. If you’d to observe the next TTF meeting, visit our page on ToC.

12 replies
  1. Gary
    Gary says:

    Cary also has many over 55 in their demographic. Please consider font size and contrast in any website re-do.

    Don’t copy Austin’s tiny type!

    Here’s a great benchmark for readability, and it’s loaded with content: http://www.ssa.gov/

    Thanks!

  2. Brent
    Brent says:

    This excellent article reinforces my high hopes for the Technology Task Force. I expect big things from y’all (after all, this is CARY!).

    I know that Lori Bush was a catalyst for this task force, so I wonder why she is sleeping in the photo? (KIDDING! Couldn’t resist).

  3. Ian Henshaw
    Ian Henshaw says:

    Hal –
    Very nice recap of the meeting. [That was a statement and not an attempt at a discussion 😉 ]. The official minutes will be available on the Town website in a few days and will include all of the presentations given at the meeting.

    I’m hoping that through the open meetings of the Technology Task Force ways can be found to engage many, many more citizens through such channels as social media (and new media).

    Cary Citizens (and other interested parties), please know that open meetings mean that the public can attend… The Task Force and the Town need your input!

        • Ian Henshaw
          Ian Henshaw says:

          Hal –
          Great picture! (not of me, obviously…)

          Notice the level of support from the Town for this effort. The big board with our touchstone document is good, but more importantly notice that we were provided with not 1, but 2 different wireless access points (in addition to the Town Hall Guest Wireless) so that we would not have Internet connectivity issues!

          Oh, and only 2 bells as of this picture…

          To those not in the meeting, please note that the scheduled 2 hour meeting lasted 3 hours, and the Task Force seemed ready to go longer based on number of off topic discussions!

          Great energy from all and I’m proud to be involved in this effort!

    • Laura Hamlyn
      Laura Hamlyn says:

      Great to see the recap here! And I’m glad Ian mentioned that our meetings are open. We hope more citizens attend because our area is chock full of experts in social media best practices, open data governance, citizen engagement, etc. Would love to see more of these folks in the room.

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