Newtown News
Update
Welcome to the June, 2019, issue of
Newtown News Update
. Back issues
and subscribing information can be foundhere. The opinions expressed
here are solely the those of John Mack and do not reflect the opinions of any
other person or entity.
Openness, Transparency & Better
Communications
You've probably seen the segment "My BIG Idea" on the NBC Nightly News
whereDemocrats running for president talk to Harry Smith about their big
ideas, how to pay for them and the impact on voters. At first, I thought this
was a bit hokey, but then I got to like the segment and decided to talk about
my own BIG Idea, which is:
Openness, Transparency & Better Communicationsin Local
Government
What can be done to achieve this goal in Newtown?
Take the Survey Now
Digital Notification System: The Township
shouldimplement a text messaging and social
media/mobile app based “emergency" notification system
that can ALSO be used to notify residents of public
meetings and other official news from the Township.
I surveyed over 100 people about such a system (e.g., Savvy Citizen which
would cost about $300 per month). 82% of respondents said they would
opt-in to such a system. See the survey resultsand comments from
respondentshere.
Currently, the only such system available to Newtown Township residents is
a free service called ReadyBucks, which is inadequate. It only reports such
things as flash floods, severe thunderstorms, etc. All these alerts can be
gotten from a number of other free sources! More importantly, ReadyBucks
does NOT provide any information about Township events, public forums,
issues, and other non-emergency notices of interest to residents.
Searchable minutes of meetings(DONE!): Very early
on in my tenure in January, 2018, I requested that the
minutes of Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings be
converted to searchable PDF format. Searchable PDFs are
useful for retrieving specific documents from a document
repository (e.g., computer disk drive). and useful for finding the location of
words and phrases within documents.
My request was quickly implemented by the Township and now every PDF
version of BOS meeting minutes going back two or more years is searchable
(access the minutes here). For more on this topic, read "Basic Document
Management" inthis Blog Post.
Streaming Indexed Video: Just as it is easier to find an
item in BOS meeting minutes if the document is
searchable, it is also easier to locate an agenda item in the
streaming video of BOS meetings if the videos are
“indexed.”
Streaming indexed video has been implemented in EVERY other local
municipality, including Lower Makefield, Northampton, Upper Makefield,
Wrightstown, and Middletown (shown below).
Middletown Township Streaming Video Page. The video of Middletown's Board of
Supervisors meeting is on the left side of the screen and the "Meeting Index" (agenda) is
on the right. Website visitors merely click on an item in the agenda to jump to that
section of the video.
IMHO, it is a travesty that Newtown Township stands alone in NOT having
this option even though it uses the exact same video streaming software as
other townships! Read "Newtown BOS Website Video Streaming
Improvement" inthis Blog Post.
Website Analytics: At the June 13, 2018, BOS meeting,
Josephine Vlastaris, former Chair of the Technology
Committee, recommended using Google Analytics to
monitor traffic and bounce rates for the township website
and make changes to pages as needed (see her
presentation here). The Committee suggested that the following reports be
created on a monthly basis:
Page Views (e.g., the 25 most visited pages)
Demographics of Users (age/gender distribution)
Top 25 Landing and Exit Pages
Behavior Flow (where do visitors go from landing pages)
Device Categories (desktop/mobile/tablet)
Browser source, i.e., Chrome, Firefox, IExplore
This information is critical for making improvements to the website and
ensuring easy access to important information. Even though the Township
already has a Google Analytics account set up to measure and report on its
website traffic (the code is already on every page), the BOS decided against
creating periodic reports citing a "lack of need to do so." It should be noted
that it takes about 2 minutes to produce a useful analytics report from
Google!
Social Media: Of the 53 local government websites
studied by the
Bucks County Courier Times
, 35 (66%) had
active Facebook pages, 25 (47%) were active on Twitter
and 13 (25%) had YouTube channels (source:"How Does
Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?"). Newtown
Township has no official social media presence.
Social Media Used by Selected Local Municipalities
Glossary of Municipal Terms: MS4, PRD, LST, EIT,
SALDO, Liquid Fuels Program, Impervious Surface, Sketch
Plan, Conditional Use, Spot-Zoning, etc. These are just
some of the acronyms and terms a Newtown Township
Supervisor has to learn to do his or her job. Perhaps more
importantly, township residents must understand these terms if they are
expected to participate in local government. To that end, I have created the
first-of-its-kindGlossary of Municipal Termson my website.
A similar glossary of terms should be available on the Township’s website.
Note that many terms in my Glossary link to related information on my
website. The Township’s glossary, of course, should link to related
information on the Township's website.
Transparency Through Technology!
My BIG Idea, in a nutshell, is to improve the Township's communication with
residents through technology. It's time for Newtown Township to enter the
twenty-first century!