Arkansas brings portal closer to home

AccessArkansas

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Even though they already have one of the nation's best e-government sites, Arkansas officials are attempting to improve the state portal's performance even further by localizing information.

In 2002, the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University ranked AccessArkansas (www.accessarkansas.org) as the nation's best government Web site for delivering online services to citizens. But feedback from citizens showed state officials that they could do better, and June 30, they announced the addition of several new features and a full redesign.

The new portal is trying to make it easier for people to access government services by omitting the need to know what entity or agency provides a particular service.

It now sports an "In My Neighborhood" feature that enables users to customize federal, state, county and city services for their locality by entering their ZIP code. Then, by simply clicking a button on the site, users will find information they need about school districts, hospitals, public libraries, legislative districts, state parks and other resources in their neighborhood or region.

The idea came out of focus groups conducted during the past year where people indicated they wanted a local focus rather than just a way of getting to the overall services offered by government, said Janet Grard, general manager for Information Network of Arkansas, which manages AccessArkansas.

"It was clear that many people really didn't know where to look for services that were relevant to them," she said.

The feature uses geographic information systems technology to provide users with a way of pinpointing where they can physically find services within the state, Grard said.

Also, if users still can't find what they need on the Web site, they can now get instant help by clicking on an onscreen button and a portal service representative will "push" the relevant Web page or form to the user's browser.

"We would hope the need for this would be low since we've worked hard to make information easy to find," Grard said. "But a government Web site is large, and there will be some things that people can't find, so there is a need for this kind of push capability."

Other new features include the ability for users to personalize the Web site so they can store such things as personal payment options, simplifying and expediting the process of renewing licenses or paying fines.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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