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Elizabeth Hunt » Honolulu Answers
  • Rewrite City Government

Challenge
The City of Honolulu website has a lot of information about how to use city government services. But many residents find the website challenging to navigate and difficult to find the specific information they want.

Solution
Inspired by GOV.UK, we created Honolulu Answers—a citizen-focused and citizen-written website that answers the questions about city services most frequently asked by city residents.

Contribution

Landing Page

From the ground up, Honolulu Answers is people-centric, rather than government-centric. We wanted Honolulu Answers to be fundamentally focused on what citizens want to know. So we placed Search functionality front and center, giving website visitors what they want from the get-go. Most important, the content is written by city residents—in their own language as answers to their own questions.

We won a 2013 IxDA Interaction Award for the Honolulu Answers website, and other organizations have re-used our open-source code for their own cities.

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Search Results

Government websites often organize content by agency or department, which can be confusing to people outside government. In our user testing, we also found that the content contained a lot more information than the average citizen needed or wanted.

So we organized the content into categories that mapped to the questions users were looking to answer. We also designed the site to address specific questions so that citizens could answer their question and move on to getting it done in the real world.

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Quick Answer

Each page on Honolulu Answers is designed as a search end-point, whether the user is coming from Google or Honolulu Answers. Quick Answers contain just one answer to just one question, so people searching for specific content can find the information they need as quickly as possible.

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Civic Write-a-thon

Honolulu Answers is not only driven by citizen questions, it's also driven by citizen-focused writing. When we started this project, we said we wanted the website to be as simple and approachable as asking a neighbor a question. Involving residents in creating the content was a natural way to achieve that.

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Writing Content for the Website

To prepare for the Civic Write-a-thon, we asked the city’s Customer Service Department for a list of the most frequently-asked questions from the community. Then we looked at analytics from the existing website to find out the most common search queries. With this data, we created a list of the most important questions that the new Honolulu Answers website should answer. People who attended the write-a-thon grabbed a question, researched the answer, and wrote it up for the website.

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City Residents Working Together

More than 50 city residents and city employees came together on a Saturday morning to collaborate in researching and writing more than 120 answers to questions. It was inspiring to see the warmth, vigor, and passionate energy with which everyone participated. As the write-a-thon came to a close, several people were so inspired that they took questions home as assignments to work on.

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Overview
On this project, my team included Code for America fellows Sheba Najmi, Amir Reavis‑Bey, Mick Thompson, Diana Tran, and Code for America Interns Phillip Hale and Joey Cody.

Code for America fellows worked in Lean Startup mode, launching MVP applications and iterating on them based on user feedback and usability testing throughout the fellowship. Find us on Github.

We won a 2013 IxDA Interaction Award for the Honolulu Answers website, and other organizations have re-used our open-source code for their own cities.

As part of this project, we created a Civic Writeathon in Honolulu, at which more than 50 local residents and city employees wrote all the MVP content in a single Saturday. Learn more about the Civic Writeathon and check out how to host one in your city.