alpha.phila.gov – Update #3: Organizing Information

Like many government websites, phila.gov is currently organized like our organizational chart, meaning that you have to first know the department before you can get to the service or information you need. For example, in order to learn more about your water bill online, do you visit Water Department? Revenue? Water Revenue? What are the differences and should you have to spend extra time trying to figure that out?

No, you shouldn’t.

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As we redesign phila.gov to best meet people’s needs, it is critical that these services and information are accessible and intuitive. In order to do that, we have to understand how you naturally categorize these services so that you can get to them as quickly as possible.

Our first step was to look at phila.gov’s web analytics see which City online services get the most use.

We picked the top 40 services and started trying to place them into big buckets of information like “Payments & Taxes” and “Streets & Utilities”. These buckets became alpha.phila.gov’s draft Information Architecture (IA), which is just a fancy way of saying “how we organize information”.

Now that we looked at the data and took a stab at organizing it, we show to the public in order to figure out if our assumptions were correct. We set up tables in the basement of the Municipal Services Building where hundreds of residents wait in order to handle licensing, permits, or payments with a live cashier. We offered the public delicious, fresh Beiler’s Donuts for their time doing a card sorting exercise with our categories.

The exercise went a little like this:

  1. Lay out all of our categories and subcategories [e.g. Payments & Taxes –> Pay Your Bill] on a set of flashcards
  2. Hand our lovely (and very diverse) volunteers a set of cards with our top services on them. [e.g. Pay a water bill]
  3. Tell them to take a service card and place it in a category (and then a subcategory) – if you don’t see a fitting category, let us know, and let us know what type of category you feel we’re lacking. [e.g. do they select Payment & Taxes as their category to pay their water bill? Or do they go for Utilities and then Water?]
  4. Take notes. Lots of notes. Hesitations, suggestions, keywords said aloud, and where each card ended up… write down everything.
  5. Give them a donut and thank them for participating!
  6. Take it all back to the office… analyze and adapt our IA wherever we see patterns forming.

If our participants didn’t have enough time to sort cards, we would simply ask them a few questions about how they have used phila.gov in the past and what they’d like to see improved.

We have made small but important changes to the IA with each of the four tests we ran in January. While we were close with our assumptions, the public pointed out issues with our categories that we did not foresee. Continued IA testing will be a part of our process, particularly as we transition new content into Alpha.

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